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  • Author or Editor: Brid Featherstone x
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Mainstream discussions about child abuse and neglect remain disconnected from a wider appreciation of what harms children, and how such issues are related to wider social and economic forces. This article draws from ongoing work on ‘framing’, and the role of stories in rendering poverty and inequality either irrelevant or invisible, offering some thoughts on how an alternative story needs to be developed and fought for in order to improve children’s welfare and safety.

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The articles in this special issue of Open Space highlight the work that is being carried out to challenge and change the current settlement between the state and families in poverty in England in relation to how children are protected from abuse and neglect. They also highlight how much more there is to do.

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The continuing reality of a gendered division of labour in parenting, and its taken-for-granted nature by services, means that women generally still play the central role in negotiating with services on behalf of children. However in Anglophone countries, there have been growing efforts to engage fathers in welfare and education services and to promote their involvement with their children (alongside more limited attention to paternity and parental leave entitlements and the public provision of child care). Such developments emphasise fathers’ role as resources for their children, while in other contexts, primarily child protection, fathers either remain invisible or are constructed largely as risks. This chapter charts these developments, highlighting first, the complexities of contemporary family life and the fragmentation of fathering, and the reality of violence, abuse and the continued care-giving role of mothers, all of which tend to be ignored in ‘fathers-as-resource’ developments; and second, increasing concerns both about unrealistic expectations of mothers where fathers are not engaged and about constructing fathers only as risks in the child protection arena, where more holistic, flexible and responsive approaches are beginning to emerge, although they remain controversial.

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This chapter argues that a dangerous disconnect has become increasingly apparent since 2010 in England allowing successive governments to claim they are improving child protection while simultaneously promoting and implementing policies that increase the numbers of children living in poverty, reduce the support services available to them, and reinforce the inequalities that limit their potential.

Key developments in the current policy climate will be discussed, locating these in a historical canvas; and alternative understandings drawing from research on the relationship between poverty, inequality and the harms children and their families suffer will be provided. The chapter will explore why a social model of ‘child protection’ is needed, outline its main features, and address how it might offer progressive possibilities for families and those who work with them as well as wider society.

We want every child in the country, whatever their background, whatever their age, whatever their ethnicity or gender, to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Children’s social care services have an essential role to play – whether by keeping children safe from harm, finding the best possible care when children cannot live at home, or creating the conditions that enable children to thrive and achieve. To make that happen, it is essential that everybody working within children’s social care has the knowledge and skills to do their jobs well, and the organisational leadership and culture to support and challenge them to keep improving. (DfE 2016: 3)

In 2016 the Department for Education (DfE) articulated its vision for child protection, identifying activity in relation to three areas: people and leadership; practice and systems; governance and accountability.

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This article explores social work practice with black fathers within the child protection and family court systems through the analysis of case studies involving black fathers whose children ‘nearly missed’ the chance to live with them. Drawing upon theories of social justice, this article explores the construction of black men as fathers and contextualises the discussion in relation to gender, race, poverty and immigration issues, as well as the current policy and legal context of child protection work in England. The article examines how beliefs and assumptions about black men can influence how they are constructed, and subsequent decision-making processes. The article concludes with some suggestions for critical social work practice within a human rights and social justice framework.

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