Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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If social work in the United Kingdom had been on trial during the Colwell Inquiry, the final verdict on the profession was to be delivered elsewhere and much later. This chapter looks at the immediate and medium-term consequences of the Maria Colwell Inquiry and examines the influence it had, ephemeral and lasting, on social work in particular and the welfare state more generally. It begins with the production of the Inquiry report itself, and its immediate reception in Whitehall, focusing on the struggle that went on inside government to craft a response to the recommendations made by the Inquiry team. It then turns to the micro-processes of government as it drew together a series of administrative and procedural reforms that Colwell implied and that did so much to shape the future of social work both organisationally and professionally. Finally, the chapter discusses the major legislative consequence of the Colwell case, the Children Act of 1975.

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Maria Colwell’s death had to be accounted for and not just by the police and the prosecuting authorities. On the Whitehawk Estate there was anger; at first directed towards Maria’s mother Pauline Kepple who, on release from police custody, returned to their home at 119 Maresfield Road in Brighton. This anger had not abated by the time of the verdict at the trial of Maria’s stepfather William Kepple, and Pauline had to move out of the family home. Maria had been known to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and to East Sussex County Council’s Social Services Department almost all her life. The express purpose of the public inquiry that, by twists and turns, followed her death in the summer of 1973, was ‘to inquire into and report upon the care and supervision provided by local authorities and other agencies in relation to Maria Colwell and the co-ordination between them’. As well as the actions of particular social workers, social work itself as a form of welfare practice became accountable for Maria Colwell’s death.

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This chapter focuses on the landmark public inquiry that followed Maria Colwell’s death. The Kepples’ (Pauline Kepple and William Kepple) neighbours expressed anger as well as concern to find out what had happened to Maria. On May 18, 1973, the Member of Parliament for Brighton Kemptown, Andrew Bowden, was ushered into the office of the Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Security, Sir Keith Joseph. This chapter describes both how that meeting came to take place and how the subsequent public inquiry came to be established. As well as being present in the public gallery and in the queues outside on certain days, the ‘public’ were to be ‘represented’ at the Colwell Inquiry through the evidence provided for it by family members and by the Kepples’ neighbours on the Whitehawk Estate. The neighbours, in particular, contributed to the construction of one of the most important commentaries on the events surrounding Maria’s death. After undergoing trial, William Kepple was convicted of Maria’s murder on April 16.

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Scandals need to be ‘discovered’; they need to be pursued, often with press support. In the case of public policy scandals, they frequently need to be mediated by a public inquiry. Scandals occur at points of unbearable tension within the tectonics of public policy. In the scandal of Maria Colwell, the deeper currents were concerned with ideas of what the welfare state is meant to do about certain, ‘problem’ families or indeed whether such families exist. This case also carries the fate of social work as a form of welfare practice into public debate. This chapter examines the story of Maria Colwell and the public policy scandal that her death created. It looks at the events and processes that took place between that second week of January 1973 and the passing of the Children Act, which received Royal Assent in November 1975. The intention is to provide a detailed and thorough account of a critical moment in the history of social work in the United Kingdom.

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The Colwell Inquiry and the state of welfare
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The public inquiry that followed the death of Maria Colwell had profound implications for the developing profession and practice of social work in the UK. This book describes the politics, professional concerns and public interest - both local and national - that surrounded the inquiry and its aftermath, and shows how the concerns of this landmark child abuse case have still failed to find a satisfactory resolution today. Social work, then and now, remains ‘on trial’.

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This chapter examines how the practice of social work was judged during the Colwell Inquiry and focuses particularly on the tensions that existed between competing understandings of its nature and purpose. First, it establishes the local context for the reorganisation of services that had followed from the implementation of the Local Authority Social Services Act of 1970. The two social workers most directly concerned with Maria Colwell’s care were Daphne Josephine Kirby of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Diana Lees of East Sussex Social Services Department. The charges laid against the social workers involved in the Colwell case fall into four broad categories: simple incompetence in carrying out their duties properly; the flawed nature of some of their fundamental assumptions about children and families; failures in the exercise of professional judgement; and a lack of awareness of the proper boundaries of social work. Taken together, these charges also constituted a powerful critique of social work itself.

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The ‘right to know’ was cited by Frederic Seebohm as a persistent example of a series of what he considered to be the social ills of his time. Seebohm’s remarks are of interest not simply because they follow the popular emotional currents that flowed around the death of Maria Colwell, but because Seebohm could claim to have designed the structure of social services that was judged to have failed her. At least some of the ‘frustration, anxiety and stress’ facing social workers in the early part of 1973 arose out of the major structural changes that had been introduced by the Local Authority Social Services Act of 1970. Since the early 1950s, welfare services for children in the United Kingdom had largely been delivered through the children’s departments of local authorities that had been established by the Children Act of 1948. Political pressure for change in the structure and organisation of welfare services grew through the early years of the 1960s. This chapter also looks at social work, Sir Keith Joseph, and the ‘cycle of deprivation’.

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The case of Maria Colwell provided a ready point of reference for the future reporting of child abuse. This chapter shows that there is a clear line of sight between the key elements that comprise the Colwell case and contemporary debates about social work, ‘problem families’ and how the state orders the relationship between the two. In general, the book has shown the role played by two social workers, Diana Lees and Daphne Josephine Kirby, in the case of Maria Colwell. It has also highlighted the need for a larger, more ambitious and aligned form of social work that respects the complexity of human and social organisation and which is predicated on a commitment to achieve a similar form of social justice that motivated the original architects of the welfare state.

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This book has emphasised the importance of recognising the diversity of rural contexts and rural lives, the necessity of an informed appreciation of local context, and, following from these, a rejection of any homogenised approach to rural-social-work policy and practice. Some of the commonalities between Western developed countries are due to similarities in social-welfare systems and the fact that these countries are relatively wealthy and, thus, have considerable expenditures allocated to ‘professionalised’ systems of social work. There are other commonalities that derive from the social dynamics of small communities, in which higher social visibility and local cultures, and patterns of relationships, play a great part in how people view social difference and social problems and how these things are experienced. In some countries, similarities arise from the experience of colonisation, whose legacies have resulted in the marginalisation of indigenous populations, the health and welfare prospects of whom are, typically, considerably worse than those of the overall population.

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This chapter reviews five dimensions that can be used to understand and analyse the diverse contexts in which rural social work is conducted: geography, demography (ethnicity and diversity, age structures, and family patterns), economy, political and structural dimensions, and community. In setting out these key dimensions, the chapter highlights features that will help rural workers to think about the nature of their own local contexts, and how these might impact upon the lives of the people and communities they serve. Although there is considerable variation within and between different countries, there are some common themes that can be usefully identified from the literature and the research on rural communities. These key dimensions can also influence how practice is planned, organised, funded, and delivered, and may be used comparatively to appreciate similarities and differences between rural contexts. The final part of the chapter reviews some of the different approaches to conceptualising and studying rural communities.

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