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  • Author or Editor: Jadwiga Leigh x
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Case studies for critical reflection and discussion
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In this uniquely vivid and compelling textbook, the authors reflect on eight challenging situations they have faced in the world of child protection social work. Their candid accounts provide in-depth case studies in how to work reflectively, using theory and research in situations of pressure and dilemma. They cover many common aspects of practice, including:

• assessing risk;

• managing different professional perspectives;

• working with uncooperative clients;

• dealing with organisational change.

Throughout the book, the authors pause at intervals to reveal their thoughts and feelings, either as reflections in the moment or afterwards, and they invite the reader to do the same. Their detailed analysis will allow you to understand why particular decisions might be made, and how you can overcome similar predicaments using the tools of reflective practice. Annotated further readings lists and a glossary of terms offer further resources for study.

The realities of child protection social work can be intimidating for even the most seasoned practitioners. This book is designed to empower both students and qualified professionals to practise safely, responsibly and confidently.

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In March 2015, David Cameron announced that social workers may face up to five years’ imprisonment if they ‘wilfully neglect’ child abuse. This announcement was made following the release of an independent inquiry report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. The author of this report was Louise Casey, Director General of the Troubled Families programme. Casey’s findings not only raised a number of concerns about the way in which child sexual exploitation was handled by Rotherham, but also led to the potential criminalisation of social workers. In this article, we use a critical discourse analysis approach and Lukes’s three-dimensional power framework to examine the inspection report. Our findings suggest that although approaches towards child sexual exploitation do need to improve, Casey’s report may in fact prevent us from understanding what actually did happen in Rotherham, why it happened and what is required to minimise the chances of it happening again.

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This chapter explores a case where the family had been known to Children’s Services for a long time. The mother was a single parent to two boys. She suffered with depression, and several agencies were expressing concerns about the welfare of her children because the boys were arriving at school late, appeared unkempt, and were always getting into trouble inside and outside school. In addition, the Family Support Service had developed an unwritten policy that stated that they would not work with any parent who was ‘depressed’ and not receiving medication for their depression.

The story begins by explaining why the author opened the referral and how a case that appeared to be ‘child in need’ quickly progressed to ‘child protection’. It follows the trials and errors made by the author who became the allocated caseworker. The author, who, while responding to the fears of other professionals and trying to deal with not being supported by the Family Support Service, soon started to act as a parent to the mother of the family. Therefore, although the author did begin working with the family, her narrative soon changed to that of someone who ‘knows best’ as she struggled to balance the fears of other professionals with the needs of the family.

Drawing from a symbolic interactionist perspective, the author uses this framework to explore the different views of the family and the professionals involved in the case. She also draws from a person-centred approach in the case study to demonstrate how this model could have alleviated some of the problems that she faced, before concluding with a systems theory approach to explain how a ‘bad’ situation turned ‘good’.

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This chapter explores a situation in which a student approached one of the authors for advice and support. This was the author’s first student in her new role of senior practitioner. The author had agreed to be mentored by her own manager, the work-based supervisor for the student. As the author was new to the authority and the manager had also just been promoted, this chapter begins by exploring the transitions both professionals had to make, and the complications that arose as a result of positioning, credibility and identity. However, what made the situation even more complex was the way in which they each related to the student.

The student had been assigned a case that both the author and her mentor struggled to agree on. It involved a family who had been known to the service for a long time. Both parents suffered with mental health issues and regularly misused alcohol. They had been provided with many opportunities to turn the situation around, and the work-based supervisor, after initially being optimistic about the case, felt that it was time to progress and refer the family to conference. The student, however, did not agree. She felt that the family had been known to Children’s Social Care (CSC) for so long because they had not been provided with the right kind of support, and were therefore not aware of how they were failing to meet expectations. The author agreed with the student that the family was in need of a different service that would be more appropriately tailored to meeting their needs.

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This chapter explores a situation the author encountered while she was working for an Out of Hours team. It follows the story of a teenage boy who was referred to the day time team but passed on to the author because no one could locate him. Known to the Youth Offending Team (YOT), this young person had been in trouble numerous times with the police as a result of drug dealing and burglary. His parents had had enough and had thrown him out of the home as they were tired of being threatened by his gang. They were also fearful of him stealing from them. It was a Friday evening in the midst of winter when the author received the referral and the snow was falling.

The case study examines how, despite carrying out a thorough assessment that identified that the young person needed to be accommodated for his own safety and because his parents refused to have him back home, the decision conflicted with the local authority’s priorities. By discussing the wider contextual issues, the author explains how, as a result of the recent change in government, the agency was facing millions of pounds’ worth of cuts. One way in which these savings could be made was to prevent children coming into care. Senior managers were therefore focused on reducing spending, and were adamant that no children were to be accommodated unless they were young and at significant risk of harm.

The case study goes on to explore how organisational ideals can often conflict with practice that occurs on the front line.

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This chapter explores a situation where the organisation was going through a difficult time and a long-standing member of the team was suspended. The way in which this was carried out was disturbing for all who were present because of the lack of information they were provided with.

I begin by exploring the theory of affect and emotion, and discuss how it can emerge in situations such as these. I go on to unravel the sequence of events that occurred through a psychodynamic lens, using the processes of splitting and blame to explain how turbulence manifested itself in the team. This period of instability did little to reassure the team members who remained. Instead of feeling informed and aware of what was happening, the way in which the organisation dealt with the matter was to remain silent and not answer any questions. This led to the suspended social worker being cut off from contact with others, and left social workers in the team feeling paranoid that they were going to be suspended next. The chapter concludes by explaining how it was only through reading the relevant departmental policy that I began to realise the way in which this suspension had been handled was unethical as it contradicted the suggested recommendations. In the following narrative, I explore how difficult situations such as these should be handled sensitively by managers in order to prevent atmospheres of mistrust and suspicion developing inside the workplace.

In order to understand why the events in this narrative unfolded in the way that they did, it is important to consider the context within which the organisation I worked for was situated.

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This case study considers an adult male in his early thirties who had sexually abused his sibling as a child. Care proceedings were initiated due to the potential risk to his newborn daughter. An assessment had been carried out that highlighted some risks to the child in terms of the potential for neglect, but that there were no issues with regard to sexual abuse. However, the Family Placement team manager concerned didn’t accept the assessment and attempted to undermine the outcome, to the extent that he attempted to misrepresent the case entirely to the child’s guardian during a meeting to look at the potential for reunification. In this chapter, we examine how the perception of others can lead to a presumption of ongoing risk, despite indicators to the contrary. We also think about our own value base and the extent to which this alters the way in which we view those with whom we work. The difficulty of proving a ‘negative’ was key in this case. As has often been shown in the media, it is easy with hindsight to show where things have gone wrong, but it is very difficult to prove how children have not been harmed as a result of direct social work action. How, then, does one evidence an absence of risk? And how do we reconcile the entrenched views of others while drawing from a social work value base that emphasises there may be a chance positive change has occurred?

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This chapter discusses the experience of unwittingly placing a child in an unsafe environment, and questions how far professional relationships can be taken for granted. Broader theories are examined with regard to attachment, abuse and the child’s expectations of how they might expect to be cared for. While this is not a chapter dedicated to an in-depth critique of attachment theory, I make reference to it where it pertains to the case in question. There are many useful texts in respect to this for those who wish to explore this theory further, and they are referred to at the end of the chapter.

Social workers place a great deal of faith in their multiagency colleagues, and none more so than foster carers. Having removed the child from the care of neglectful or abusive parents, the local authority has a legal, and certainly a moral, duty to ensure that the alternative carers are able to meet the needs of that particular child, however complex – what might be termed ‘better than good enough’. The term ‘good enough parenting’ was coined by Winnicott (1965), recognising that it is unrealistic to expect parents to be perfect, and to do so undermines the vast majority of parents who are, in most respects, ‘good enough’ in meeting the needs of their child.

What social care asks of carers is no small task. Thinking about this from a foster carer’s perspective, it could be seen as a challenging prospect, to take a child they don’t know into their family and to care for them as if they are their own child, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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This chapter looks at a case study of an assessment session with a father who was the subject of a Fact Finding Hearing with regard to two serious non-accidental injuries to a pre-mobile child. Although the Court believed the father was guilty of the injuries, he had always maintained his innocence. This assessment session was to look specifically at the occurrence of one of the injuries that was slightly less contentious in that he did admit to bumping the child’s head but not to causing a skull fracture.

The chapter starts with an overview of the case and the rationale for the assessment. It then moves on to look at how complex assessments should be approached in order to increase the chances of good client engagement, and provides techniques for dealing with denial and how good rapport building will ensure that the information gathered is of the highest quality, leading to robust assessment outcomes.

Within the early discussion is my reflection on why previous cases were difficult and the way in which I have developed skills of not only resilience but also practice wisdom, which have enabled me to become a confident and competent practitioner. Theories and current research with regard to client engagement and body language are considered, and the power of bringing interview techniques to investigational assessment is examined throughout.

Within this chapter, I draw from the parents’ attributions of child behaviour, drawing on the role played by theory of mind (see Premack and Woodruff, 1978) in the care of the child.

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