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In 2010 it became apparent that no reliable data were available on the deaths of children in contact with social workers in the Republic of Ireland. As a result of this lacuna, in 2011–12, the Independent Child Death Review Group (ICDRG) and the National Review Panel (NRP) published official reports tabulating and partly describing these deaths. A close reading of the reports indicates that practitioner involvement is frequently enmeshed in factors associated with neoliberal imperatives connected to unfilled vacancies, related staffing problems and the rationing and curtailment of services. Following the appearance of the reports, an emerging ‘change agenda’, partly influenced by New Labour in the UK, has sought to chart a way forward. Nevertheless, given that the state remains committed to a more embracing programme of intensive neoliberalisation, efforts seeking ‘reform’ are likely to fail.

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Drawing on Raymond Williams’ approach, the article examines ‘welfare dependency’ as one of the most pernicious ‘keywords’ in neoliberal discourse and encourages those located within the field of social work to be sceptical about its uncritical usage. Bolstered by conservative scholarship, the forging of a new ‘common sense’ on welfare may have contributed to the harsh public perceptions referred to in a significant British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. Problematising the widespread usage of ‘welfare dependency’, the article provides a critical resource for social work educators, practitioners, students and users of services.

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It has been categorically asserted that Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy, dwelling on accepting responsibility for the ‘Other’, can be used to bolster the theorisation of ‘critical social work’. Furthermore, a number of social work academics maintain that his complex contributions create a new framework for working across ‘differences’. In contrast, this article will challenge these assertions, shedding light on an array of deeply problematic aspects of Levinas’s philosophy and politics. These have so far been omitted in the way he has been presented to a social work readership. Particular attention will be paid to Levinas’s self-proclaimed Euro-centrism and racist condescension toward those beyond Europe. The discussion will then turn to explore his ethnic nationalism which functions to conceptually misrecognise, disrespect and discursively delete Palestinians.

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The article stresses the continuing significance of keyword-anchored theorising in critical social work. Paying particular attention to England and Wales, the focus is on care as a keyword. Care is central within a range of discourses impinging on social work and social policy in connection with the evolution of community care, the long-term care of the increasing proportions of older people, the treatment of children and young people in the public care system, and debates about unpaid carers. While not claiming to be exhaustive, the article maintains that dwelling on care, as a keyword, can illuminate how, at least, three connected dimensions are significant: care and neoliberal globalism; care and neoliberal labour processes; and care, commodification and corruption.

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Marxism is frequently regarded in a disdainful and dismissive way in social work education. However, often drawing on Marx’s own words, this article argues that many of his focal ideas have continuing resonance for contemporary social work. Three key themes are briefly examined: Marx’s analysis of labour and working lives in a capitalist society; neoliberalism and the voraciousness of capital; and the role of the state and dominating ideology. Finally, the discussion will turn from theory to praxis, illustrating how practitioners and educators within the field of social work might endeavour not only to ‘interpret’ the world, but also to ‘change’ it.

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In the late 1990s and early 21st century, politicians and commentators in Britain have looked on, in puzzled wonderment, at the arrival of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy in the Republic of Ireland1. It has even been asserted that the Irish, with their allegedly ostentatious new-found wealth, are the “playboys of Europe” (The Observer, 22 July 2001). Recent representations of Irish people have also tended to centre on popular culture: the Riverdance phenomenon, U2 and The Corrs (Stevens et al, 2000; see also West, 2002). Indeed, the popularity of a particular construction of Irishness led one British newspaper to contend, in the mid-1990s: “If you’re hip, you must be Irish” (O’Sullivan, 1996). In the same article, a writer and cultural commentator mused: “Irish culture is seductive. It has become a signifier for hedonism with soul” (see also ‘Dubliners come home to find boom prices in Cool Hibernia’, The Independent, 30 May 1998, p 14). More generally, within the field of cultural studies, it has been claimed that ‘Irishness’ has ‘cachet’ and that it has attained the ‘status of cultural capital’ (Thompson, 2001, p 1; see also, however, Maddox, 1996).

All of these notions are, of course, highly debatable. Cultural commodification is, of course, a key characteristic of Late Capitalism and this can be related to what has also been dubbed ‘Cool Hibernia’ and the ‘commodification of Irishness’ (McGovern, 2002; see also Fish, 1997). Thus, throughout the late 1990s, this was evidenced in the marketing of alcoholic drinks (Armstrong, 1996; see also ‘Special brew of trendy ales and blarney rakes in cash’, The Guardian, 1 May 1997). More recently, it has been possible to detect a certain wane in corporate interest in utilising ‘Irishness’ to promote consumption (see, for example, ‘Breweries call time on “Oirish” theme pubs’, The Irish Post, 5 May 1999; ‘Irish acts in doldrums as festival is axed’, The Observer, 1 June 2003). Nonetheless, these developments do highlight the new centrality of Ireland and ‘Irishness’ in the field of cultural studies (see also Kirby et al, 2002b). In contrast, with social work – and social policy – in Britain, there has been an embedded failure to recognise the specificity of Irish people2.

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The second part of this book, which examines contemporary responses to Irish children and families, at first concentrated on dominant approaches to ‘race’ and ethnicity within social work in Britain. It then analysed some of the findings from a survey of directors of social services departments (SSDs) that looked at their organisation’s involvement with Irish children and families in England and Wales. The data generated might be viewed, therefore, as providing a ‘view from the top’. Now, however, the discussion will switch focus and examine the ‘view from below’ and look at what Irish social work practitioners regard as the key issues. The ‘voices’ featured derive from in-depth interviews conducted in early 2003. More specifically, eight Irish social workers involved in children and families social work were interviewed1.

As observed in Chapter Five, almost a quarter of the returned questionnaires in the survey of directors of SSDs came from London. Indeed, more Irish- born people live in London than in any other city except Dublin and Belfast (Hickman, 2002, p 22), and in what follows all of the respondents live and work in the capital. Moreover, in this chapter, ‘social worker’ is used in a broad and inclusive manner. Three of the practitioners had attained a social work qualification – either a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work or the Diploma in Social Work. The other interviewees had different, though related, job titles. Previous research has revealed the relatively high proportion of Irish-born people who work in ‘health and social care in Britain’.

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Luckier girls, on board a ship, watch new hope spraying from the bollard. (Austin Clarke, ‘Unmarried mothers’, cited in McCormack, 1992)

Carol Smart (2000) has maintained that archival research is vitally important and provides us with an additional way to comprehend the evolution of social policy and the discursive practices of the welfare state. Perhaps this is particularly significant in terms of how questions related to ‘race’ and ethnicity have been constructed. This and the following two chapters will examine, therefore, how Irish mothers and their children were responded to in the 1950s and 1960s. We will begin in Ireland where official concerns about the migration of ‘unmarried mothers’ in the period after the setting up the Irish Free State in 1922 provide part of the historical foundation for some of the issues examined in the rest of the book. An exploration of the situation within Ireland at this time enables us to examine how one particular group of Irish citizens felt compelled to make a brief, but expeditious, ‘flight’. Using more contemporary vocabulary, it could be maintained that the women who are the focal concern of this chapter left the national territory because they were socially excluded. Many, however, were then subjected to exclusionary practices in England and pressurised to return to Ireland.

As Walter et al (2002a, pp 15-19) argue, social exclusion has rarely been perceived as a cause of Irish emigration in academic literature (see also Powell, 1992). Here, the dominant explanatory models have tended to interpret post- 1945 emigration as being prompted by economic factors with the employment situation ‘at home’ being viewed as the key determinant.

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In February 1955, the chairman of London County Council’s Children’s Committee was asked if there was any evidence that “increased immigration from the West Indies in recent years” had led to an increase in “coloured children” coming into care? The chairman responded that the number of children taken into care was available on a monthly basis and it “would be undesirable to give any appearance of segregation … by giving details as to colour or nationality” (1 February 1955, London County Council Minutes of Proceedings). However, despite this reply, from the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s, the Council was, in fact, intent on sifting, logging and demarcating Irish children on the basis of their nationality. Related to this process of classification, hundreds of children were removed from Britain and taken to live outside the jurisdiction of the British government, in Ireland.

The aim of this chapter, therefore, is to chart the approach of the England’s largest local authority to Irish children in public care in the middle of the 20th century. More specifically, the central focus will be on the activities of the London County Council Children’s Committee and its efforts to discharge children from care to Ireland. The key period stretches from 1954 until 1965 since, as we shall see, it was during this time that that the council appeared to have been most preoccupied with Irish children in its care. This part of the book will refer to the publicly available minutes of the proceedings of the council. However, it will also make more extensive use of the ‘closed’ minutes of the Children’s Committee (1948-65) and related presented papers.

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Having put in place an historical foundation for the second half of this book, the focal argument in this chapter is that social work’s theoretical approach to questions of ‘race’ and ethnicity, associated with a more embracing academic discourse, fails to address the specificity of Britain’s largest ethnic minority, Irish people1. This is not to argue that Irish people are entirely omitted, even within Department of Health (DoH) publications that provide guidance for social workers (see, for example, DoH, 1991, p 106; DoH, 2001). Nonetheless, it is apparent that the hegemonic, or dominant, approach is apt to shrink the discourse on ‘race’ and ethnicity and does not allow for a more complex understanding. Similarly, there is a failure to examine some of the historical patterns of involvement with Irish children and families discussed in earlier chapters of this book.

Providing part of the context for an exploration of contemporary responses to Irish children and families, the chapter begins by briefly highlighting social work’s more general interest in promoting what is loosely referred to as ‘anti- discriminatory social work practice’. This has been subjected to a good deal of political criticism in recent years. Next, it looks at social work’s dominant orientation in relation to ‘race’ and ethnicity, then goes on to examine contemporary and official guidelines for practice, revealing how these have tended to ignore Irish children and families. It is suggested that there may be some signs of change with the evolution of newer approaches, which take account of the diversity within black and white categories.

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