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This chapter discusses the core theoretical concepts that relate to family group conferences (FGCs). Social work theory has long shaped the practice of the profession, but it is only in recent years that social workers are being asked to evidence the theoretical basis to their interventions, in assessment and court reports. As such, it is crucial that social workers understand the theoretical basis to their work and for them to be recognised as skilled and research-informed practitioners in their own right, given the evidence-based practice landscape of social care. For policy makers, having an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the FGC model and the relationship between FGCs and what is considered to be good social work practice is significant. The theoretical framework ensures that the model is given credibility and offers the potential for it to become a viable alternative to existing processes.

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This chapter assesses family group conferences (FGCs) as an international model of decision-making. FGCs are used in at least 20 countries across the globe. They are internationally recognised as an effective way of engaging families in decision-making processes. As the model has been applied in other countries, it has been adapted to reflect the cultures and the historical and policy context of individual countries and jurisdictions. Some of the processes are very similar to the original New Zealand model while others are very different and are hybrids of the original model. The chapter then studies the different levels of service implementation of FGCs and considers some of the outcome studies from seven countries. It also focuses on China as a case study for a country attempting to introduce FGCs as a culturally appropriate method of child protection practice.

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This chapter examines the contemporary policy and practice of child protection social work in England. It explores the current context of child protection practice and the post-war development of child protection services, in relation both to political ideology and to the social construction of women, children and those living in poverty.

The chapter discusses the impact of poverty and inequality on child protection practice and explores Lapierre’s (2007) theory of ‘mother blaming’ in domestic abuse cases and the low levels of engagement of fathers in child protection processes.

A discussion on the role of the media in shaping attitudes towards both social workers and families that are engaged in social work services is also presented. This discussion is followed by a case example from practice and some critical questions for students relating to the case study.

It is acknowledged that this chapter explores the above ideas and concepts only briefly and at a fundamental level. Therefore, some further reading is listed which should enable students to explore these ideas and concepts in greater depth.

Before the discussion commences, it is important to refer to the impact of devolution on social work practice. No longer is it pertinent to refer to social work in the UK as a single entity. There are now significant differences in child protection processes and practice among the devolved countries of the UK. For example, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a greater focus on early intervention and family support. The focus in England, however, appears to be on responding to risk, with high thresholds for social work intervention and a scaling back of family support and early intervention services (Vincent et al, 2010; Parton, 2014; Devaney and McConville, 2016).

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This book has provided a comprehensive introduction to the impact of political ideology and party politics on social work practice and its context.

Part I provided an overview of contrasting political ideologies and how each has played a role in shaping both historical and contemporary social work practice. Part II linked political ideology to traditional areas of social work practice: children and families, adult social care, mental health and criminal justice. It is hoped that readers will have gained an understanding of how political ideology has shaped legislation, policy and practice in these areas. Part III discussed contemporary and emerging areas of social work practice and identified the rapidly changing environment for social workers and service users alike, influenced by globalisation, austerity and neoliberal ideology.

Social work is political. This book has aimed to make clear the links between party politics, political ideology, social and economic factors and social work practice. It is hoped that readers will have gained an understanding that social work is inevitably shaped by the politics of the day and that social workers need to be cognisant of the impact of government policy on their working environments and on the lives of people whom they support. Such an understanding enables social workers to support people more effectively and, in recognising the impact of poverty, inequality and discrimination, to undertake more accurate and robust assessments of need and risk. It also enables social workers to protect the ethics and values of their profession and to challenge policy and practice which is not congruent with these values and with the Global Definition of Social Work (2014).

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The final part of this book presents contemporary challenges and emerging areas of practice for social workers. Its coverage is by no means exhaustive and there are challenges for social work that are not addressed in this part, such as dementia, a global health and social welfare challenge. The chapters provide an introduction to some of the pressing challenges for social work practice in the UK: insecurity, migration, child sexual abuse and exploitation, addiction and radicalisation.

All of these issues and their associated factors – with the exception of radicalisation and insecurity – have long presented a challenge to social work practitioners. Attitudes and responses to these issues have adapted in response to the changing socio-political and economic landscape in the UK. These changes are addressed in the following chapters.

Radicalisation and insecurity are presented as new, emerging areas for social work practice. The increase in religious radicalisation is a challenge for both the adult and children’s social care sectors. For example, encouraging children and young people to become radicalised is now recognised as a safeguarding issue for children, and local authorities have developed relevant policies and procedures for social workers and other professionals in response.

Insecurity relates to poverty and inequality and refers to a situation where individuals and families cannot be certain from one month to the next if they can afford basic human needs, such as food, housing and warmth. This is reflected in the increase in food and fuel poverty and homelessness in the UK since 2010.

The authors of the chapters present critical discussions on the changing practice context in their respective service areas.

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Involving families in social care decision making

Family group conferences (FGCs) are a strengths-based approach to social work practice, empowering families to take responsibility for decision-making. It is a cost-effective service, which is currently used by the majority of local authorities.

This collection discusses the origins and theoretical underpinnings of family led decision making and brings together the current research on the efficacy and limitations of FGCs into a single text.

This insightful book also covers topics such as the use of FGCs in different areas of children and families social work, uses case studies to illustrate current practice, and explores whether FGCs should become a mainstream function of children and families social work.

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This textbook offers students and practitioners an accessible introduction to strengths-based approaches in Social Work and Social Care practice. Covering the theory and research in support of these approaches, and packed full of case studies, the book will allow readers to develop a critical understanding of how strengths-based approaches work, and how they can be successfully applied in order to improve outcomes for people with lived experience.

Covering the five main models of strengths-based practice, the text presents international research and evidence on the efficacy of each approach, enabling students and practitioners to apply the benefits in their own social work practice. The guide features the perspectives of people with lived experience throughout and includes the following key learning features:

  • case studies of best practice;

  • points for practice: succinct tips for practitioners and students on practice placement;

  • further reading list and resources;

  • glossary.

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Political and Ideological Perspectives

It is essential that social work students understand the lasting impact political decision making can have on service users, yet little guidance exists on this subject. This valuable book provides a comprehensive introduction to politics in social work, unifying the themes of political ideology and social construction across several areas of social work practice, including emerging areas of practice. The book:

• Introduces the dominant political ideologies in the UK;

• Examines the impact of these ideological perspectives on different demographic groups;

• Explores emerging areas of growing political interest such as radicalisation;

• Employs case studies and examples from practice to aid student understanding.

Including helpful key points to guide reading at the beginning of each chapter, as well as exercises for seminars and further reading recommendations, this text will be an invaluable resource to all students in social work.

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This chapter looks at the views of family members who have been involved in child welfare family group conferences (FGCs). FGCs originate in New Zealand from roots that are firmly embedded within service-user rights and empowerment. Therefore, it is not surprising that FGC projects have developed strategies for involving families in developing services. At present, there are pockets of good practice in terms of service-user involvement. However, it must be acknowledged that service-user involvement in all areas of social care remains a pipe dream for many reasons, which include scarce resources in terms of staff and financial commitments. Nevertheless, it is recommended for new and established projects to continue to evaluate service-user experiences of FGCs and to use these evaluations to enhance provision, and to give FGC service users the opportunity to contribute to FGC training.

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This chapter focuses on the use of family group conferences (FGCs) in cases of domestic violence and abuse (DVA). In the case of DVA, there is a disconnection between the family, domestic abuse services, child protection services, and child contact. Evidence highlights the potential of FGCs to galvanise relationships between families and professionals, and among professionals themselves. For example, research into the state-wide implementation of FGCs in Hawai’i found that the conference approach enabled professionals to understand each other’s professional responsibilities, enhancing communication and leading to an improved service response to meeting the needs of families. More specific research into the use of FGCs in DVA cases undertaken in North Carolina found the potential of FGCs to offer an inclusive and coordinated response to families, bringing together families, domestic abuse support professionals, and child welfare professionals to plan for the safety of children.

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