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This comments on the foregoing chapters and goes on to identify the key themes addressed by the contributors and discuss their relevance to the current context of social work policy and practice
This comments on the foregoing chapters, acknowledges the value of understanding the complex relationship between moral panics, the state and the profession of social work and notes that many of the ideas and issues presented speak to the day-to-day experience of a front-line practitioner.
Endings are commonplace within life and work and yet can often be neglected among the demands of front-line social work practice. There can be pressure to close cases once acute risks have been addressed. A difficult meeting or phone call is still on your mind in the evening or over the weekend. Ideally, an ending supports the transition between one state and another and often this is best achieved when it is prepared for in advance. While reading this book, you may have been thinking of your own work and asking yourself what difference an understanding of moral panics might make to your research, study or practice. Within this afterword, I hope to help in this transition from theory to practice by identifying what I feel are some of the key themes addressed by the contributors and discussing their relevance to the current context of social work policy and practice.
I am employed as a social worker in a local authority Children and Families practice team in Scotland and have previous experience of youth work and residential childcare. My current role encompasses child protection, children in need, looked after and accommodated children, and adoption and permanency work. This places my perspective within a specific context. Scotland has its own legal system and distinctive Children's Hearing System (see Hothersall, 2014). However, many of the issues facing social workers in Scotland have much in common with other child welfare systems in Anglophone countries (Lonne et al, 2009).
I remember first coming across Cohen’s ground-breaking work on moral panics when I was an undergraduate sociology student; featuring evocative accounts of leather-clad rockers clashing with sharp-suited soul aficionados on the beaches of Brighton, Cohen analysed the process by which certain groups came to be deemed as threats to the social order by the media and establishment figures, and how public attitudes were manipulated to generate a groundswell of intolerance. It was irresistible stuff for the younger, left-lurching, Che Guevara-worshipping incarnation of myself. Yet, during my post-graduate training to become a social worker, and the several years I have spent working in the criminal justice system and children’s services, it is not a body of work that I have ever returned to. When I read the contributions in this volume, which focus on the complex relationship between moral panics, the state and the profession of social work, I realise how many of the ideas and issues presented here speak to my day-to-day experience of being a front-line practitioner.
As the Introduction to this byte acknowledges, the concept of the state is somewhat nebulous and notoriously difficult to nail down. Unsurprisingly, many different sociologists have wrestled with the subject. One of the most influential was Weber (1994 ), who sought to explain how the nature of the state has evolved throughout history. He suggested that the success of early forms of social organisation hinged on the charismatic influence of certain leaders. Feudal monarchies would later invoke the power of tradition and custom to maintain their subjects’ loyalty.
This comments on the foregoing chapters, and acknowledges that whilst panic of itself is, arguably, morally neutral; how panic is fuelled, steered and exploited is not. There follows an exploration of how the themes of the chapters become operationalised in the context of practice as a criminal justice social worker.
‘Panic’ is a theme I am familiar with in my work with women who regularly experience extremely distressing situations. It is a natural response to fear, and one that can be managed. Panic of itself is, arguably, morally neutral; how panic is fuelled, steered and exploited is not. Woven through the discussion in this chapter is an interest in moving toward a productive understanding of the function of ‘moral panic’, in order that it might create stimulus for positive change rather than being steered towards the imperative to cling to problematic norms. This interest underpins the discussion of themes derived from the chapters in this part: the constitution of ‘the deviant other’ and the discharge of moral responsibility. I then consider the Scottish Government’s policy on violence against women, Equally Safe (Scottish Government, 2014a), to explore how such themes become operationalised in the context of my practice as a criminal justice social worker in a ‘women’s’ service.
Each of the chapters in this byte has illuminated a view of the ‘undesirable other’ as a prerequisite for ‘moral panic’. Furedi’s Chapter One focused on the contemporary ‘other’, ‘the paedophile’; Benson and Charsley, and Clark, in Chapters Three and Four, respectively, highlighted the ‘othering’ of those who are perceived as ‘not like us’ for reasons of cultural difference. These three are, arguably, the most emotive of panics discussed, as they portray clearly recognisible human actors who become readily stereotyped as a homogeneous group. Grumett’s discussion of animal welfare in Chapter Two is another emotive topic, as those believed to mistreat animals readily become associated with other immoral practices.
This comments on the foregoing chapters and goes on to offer an insightful reflection on the issues of widening definitions of abuse and harm, and grounds for interference and regulation of private and family life.
I am an independent social work practitioner and commentator with a particular interest in the interface between research, policy and practice. In 2014 I was appointed as Chair of the Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee of the British Association of Social Workers and look forward to contributing to the promotion of ethical practice and the continuing development of professional opinion and policy. Moral panics that influence social work and social workers are clearly well within the scope of this committee and the contributions on family and gender in this byte are of great relevance to future discussion and work. In this afterword, I have chosen to reflect particularly on the issues of widening definitions of abuse and harm, and grounds for interference and regulation of private and family life, which are raised particularly by the contributions by Tartari (Chapter One) and Waiton (Chapter Five). These chapters both describe the ways that moral panics have allowed the greater encroachment of government into private and intimate relationships. Family life has, they argue, been gripped by a succession of moral panics about everything from satanic or ritual abuse to rioting youth. Waiton goes as far as to assert that the family is ‘a new site for amoral elite anxieties’. Gender relations are currently at the heart of a number of contemporary scandals, often played out as criminal trials of historical events. Tartari explores the ways in which child abuse and gender panics have the apparently paradoxical effect of over-emphasising the vulnerability of women and children and the villainy of men, to the advantage of opportunistic politicians.
In general, and specifically through the development, or obsession, with early intervention, at the level of policy discourse, the autonomous family has disappeared in the UK. The Victorian approach to the family and intervention is contrasted with social policy developments in the twenty first century as a way of illustrating the new post-liberal approach to parenting, one predicated upon a diminished sense of parental capacity and an expectation of necessary support for all families and poor families in particular.
In 2008, I suggested that the concept ‘moral panic’ was, in many respects, past its ‘sell-by’ date; the idea of amoral panic was offered as an alternative (Waiton, 2008). My analysis was based on the following observations:
the use of morality is declining as a framework for panics
the importance of amoral categories like ‘risk’ and ‘safety’ as central tenets of panics is growing
individuals are engaged with as diminished subjects
old ‘moral’ institutions are undermined rather than shored up by these panics
‘panics’ are normalised and institutionalised.
In this chapter, I will take this argument further by examining the transformation that has been taking place in ‘The Family’, an institution once central to moral panic theorising, associated with moral values and understood and defended as something that was ‘at the heart of society’ (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994, p 8). I pose the question: to what extent is the ‘future of the nuclear family’ the basis for panics today (Cohen, 2011, p xxii)? In particular, I look at the way the idea of the ‘autonomous family’ has all but disappeared from government and policy discussions of the family, and conclude by suggesting that we need to understand the rise and rise of ‘early intervention’ policies and initiatives as an illustration of the amoral panic that has developed around the family in the 21st century.
The opening sentence of the UK government’s document Next Steps for Early Learning and Child Care, published in 2009, reads: ‘Everyone agrees that the first few months and years are the most important in a child’s life.