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  • Author or Editor: Kate White x
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Towards Humane Social Work with Families

Why has the language of the child and of child protection become so hegemonic? What is lost and gained by such language? Who is being protected, and from what, in a risk society? Given that the focus is overwhelmingly on those families who are multiply deprived, do services reinforce or ameliorate such deprivations? And is it ethical to remove children from their parents in a society riven by inequalities?

This timely book challenges a child protection culture that has become mired in muscular authoritarianism towards multiply deprived families. It calls for family-minded humane practice where children are understood as relational beings, parents are recognized as people with needs and hopes and families as carrying extraordinary capacities for care and protection. The authors, who have over three decades of experience as social workers, managers, educators and researchers in England, also identify the key ingredients of just organizational cultures where learning is celebrated.

This important book will be required reading for students on qualifying and post-qualifying courses in child protection, social workers, managers, academics and policy makers.

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This chapter explores the rationale for the book and locates contemporary developments within differing perspectives on the relationship between the state and families. It outlines the key questions to be explored in the book and argues for an ethical problematic that is rooted in an understanding of the impact of living in a very unequal society on relationships between social workers and families as well as within families.

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Chapter 2 explores how welfare has been reshaped in the last decades as a transactional form of welfare came to reign in a society in love with the market. It outlines the growth in inequality in the context of neo-liberalism and the trajectory of child protection policy and practice in that context. It locates contemporary policy developments within New Labour’s project of social investment and managerialism and explores how this has been sharpened in austerity.

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Chapter 3 argues for the importance of ethics and assesses the contributions of differing schools such as the ethics of care and Judith Butler’s work on recognition. In a context where technique and expertise have been emphasised, this chapter stresses a vision that acknowledges the inevitability of conflicting perspectives, and it also highlights the dangers of monopoly positions on truth, which limit debate.

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Research itself, or rather ideas about it and how it should properly be conducted, constitute sites of contestation and struggle with very high stakes. Research and what counts as valid knowledge are political matters and this chapter offers examples of how differing kinds of help are privileged and delimited by differing research paradigms. It offers an important challenge to the research evidence behind aspects of contemporary policies in child protection.

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This chapter explores the importance of developing a just culture in organizations so that the kind of social work promoted in this book which places human beings and human factors at its heart can be developed. It is argued that the systems that have been developed are more concerned with managing institutional risk than fostering a just culture in organizations. Examples are offered of system design that can support rather than hinder humane practice.

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Chapter 6 explores the literature on suffering and the importance of attending to everyday experiences of living with shame in an unequal society. It explores the lived experience of poverty and makes a case for social work practice that incorporates a recognition of the extraordinary power of ordinary help and promotes the capacities of neighbourhoods and communities

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Chapter 7 addresses relationships between men and women as partners or ex-partners. It is argued that while parenting and parenting capacity are seen as critical in terms of impacting on children’s welfare, an irony of the current policy and practice climate is how little attempt is made to understand actual parents, what they want from each other, and for, and from their children. The issue of domestic abuse is explored in some depth

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Chapter 8 argues that the notion of family as the context for the resolution of children’s needs extends the scope for supporting change and provides an accurate reflection of most children’s lived experiences. It argues for the importance of an understanding of identities that can encompass the importance of past, present and future and that barriers to family engagement in the care and protection of children have, in part, been a product of reluctance to go beyond the presenting unit (however fractured that may be), despite the evidence that family networks are fluid, diverse and rarely geographically specific.

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In the conclusion it is argued that the current settlements about child protection need dismantling not because children have ceased to need protection, but because the orthodoxies are masking complexity and ironically making them less safe. Children are often uniquely vulnerable, but this does not mean they can be seen as separate from kin and community. If they are turned into sacred objects of concern, their lives are made poorer. The chapter also argues that the role of family and community engagement and development in supporting change for children and those they love and are connected to through blood, history and a multitude of ties must be recognised and supported. Further that there is a need to use approaches that fulfil responsibilities to intervene where there is harm without risk becoming the dominant paradigm. The chapter suggests that risk is a wider concept than the pathologising of individuals and groups. It is a product of multiple influences and is situational. Finally the chapter states that social workers must attend to furthering their understandings of the particular family and individuals immediately before them, rather than glossing them into spurious universals and institutional categories. This requires both rigour and humility.

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