Journal of Children's Services

Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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  • A study of serious case reviews between 2016 and 2018: what are the key barriers for social workers in identifying and responding to child neglect?

    Purpose: Child neglect is the most common form of maltreatment but is also one of the most complex. Neglect has a long-term negative impact on children and young people’s development and wellbeing. This study examined 20 recent serious case reviews that had taken place in England where neglect was a feature. The purpose of this study is sought to explore the barriers, which exist for social workers in England in identifying and responding to neglect in a timely, appropriate and effective manner. Design/methodology/approach: Thematic analysis identified four main themes that were likely to impact upon effective interventions. Findings: Challenges in terms of the definition of neglect and how to identify it; the use of neglect toolkits; the impact of organisational cultures on practice and the voice of the child. Originality/value: In spite of its prevalence there is a dearth of literature relating specifically to the issue of neglect. There is a need for further research to be undertaken because of the acknowledged, seriousness and potential longstanding negative impact on children even into adulthood (Horwath, 2013). It is hoped that this study provides a useful insight into some of the barriers that exist for social workers in working effectively with children and families for whom neglect is an issue.

  • The Emotional experiences of children living in orphanages in Ghana

    Purpose: This study aims to explore the emotional experiences of children in selected orphanages. Design/methodology/approach: The study was executed in three orphanages in Accra, Tema and Aburi through the use of semi-structured interviews and observations. Findings: In total, 15 respondents reported some emotional experiences such as loneliness, entrapment, deprivation, rejection and helplessness. Originality/value: The number of children living in orphanages has increased in recent times. Previous studies have examined psychological risk and protective factors among children orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS and also compared orphan children to non-orphans. Notwithstanding this, little is known about the emotional experiences of children living in orphanages in Ghana.

  • Grow Online: feasibility and proof of concept study

    Purpose: Digitally delivered, parent-focused interventions (DD-PFIs) are viewed as an important method for supporting child well-being. Few DD-PFIs include health-promotion and general-parenting content, and only some are intended for a universal audience. The purpose of this paper is to focus on a preliminary evaluation of Grow Online, which was designed to address this gap. Design/methodology/approach: A mixed-methods design, including pretests and posttests and semi-structured interviews, was employed to evaluate program feasibility and demonstrate proof of concept. Findings: Feasibility findings were favorable, which indicates participants were satisfied with the program, liked the main program features, found the content helpful and had a positive experience using the website. Initial recruitment was strong, and engagement with the sessions was high; however, retention was poor with a 73.5 percent attrition rate. Significant pre- to post-changes were found on measures of over-reactive discipline, parenting efficacy, emotion coaching, coping socialization, child physical activity support, rewarding eating and child externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Research limitations/implications: Study design and high attrition limit the ability to infer causality and generalize beyond the sample. Practical implications: Providing support to parents through a universal health-promoting DD-PFI is viable, though issues involving retention need to be given full consideration. Originality/value: Parents use of technology to access child care information is increasing, but most information online is not evidence-informed. Grow Online fills an important gap in the research and practice of DD-PFIs, and this study’s findings suggest a more rigorous evaluation is merited.

  • Pilot implementation of child psychosocial framework in Kenya, Turkey and Brazil

    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to develop a child psychosocial framework among stakeholders in areas of disadvantage in three low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), i.e. Kenya, Turkey and Brazil, and to capture their proposed recommendations through action plans according to this framework. Design/methodology/approach: Workshops were facilitated with a total of 54 participants from different disciplines. The framework addressed safety and child-centredness, quality of care, resilience-building in schools and communities, enhancing competencies within existing roles, counselling and psychological interventions, and access to mental health services. Stakeholders’ perspectives were captured through a participatory action procedure. Findings: The emerging 33 categories across the framework dimensions and the three sites led to four overarching and inter-linked themes. These related to community awareness; empowerment and “mobilization” of children, young people and families; inter-agency policy and practice; and capacity-building on skills acquisition at different levels. Research limitations/implications: The next stage in this service research should be full implementation and evaluation in different LMIC contexts. Practical implications: It is feasible to implement such a child psychosocial framework in contexts of conflict and disadvantage, and in the absence of specialist mental health services. Active stakeholder engagement and co-production should be central to the next phase of service transformation in LMIC. Originality/value: This study captured the views and experiences of stakeholders in LMIC areas of disadvantage, and demonstrated their readiness to establish interdisciplinary networks and re-focus existing services.

  • Current practice for social workers on planning contact for special guardianship children

    Purpose: An integral feature of Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) is that the children should have some contact with their parents after the order is granted. Local authority social workers have a duty to plan and recommend levels and types of contact. But there is no policy guidance provided on how to undertake these duties, and little is known about the process that practitioners undertake. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the recommending of contact in special guardianship cases, and to provide data on what contact social workers are recommending the factors they take into consideration and the reasons for their decisions. Design/methodology/approach: The research involved a mixed-methods approach comprising of a questionnaire and focus groups. This part of the study comprised of an online questionnaire that was completed by 102 local authority social workers. Responses were downloaded into SPSS Statistics v22 for data analysis and a content analysis was conducted. Findings: Quantitative results from the questionnaire are reported in this paper. Respondents provided comprehensive details on what they include in their recommendations, including levels of contact frequency and specific directions. Practitioners rated the factors they considered in reaching their decisions, and gave their general views on special guardianship contact. Results indicated that practitioners are recommending less contact for fathers than for mothers, and may feel less positively about paternal contact. Bivariate analysis suggests that some older and more experienced social workers are recommending lower levels of contact. Research limitations/implications: The statistical significance of the results was limited by the relatively small sample size. It was therefore decided to limit bivariate analyses to consideration of just three independent variables: the social worker’s age and number of years in practice, and the age of the child at the time of their SGO, against dependent variables concerning the levels of contact that had been recommended for mothers and fathers and how positive these were considered to be. Because of the limited sample size, most of the results were above this level, and so were not statistically significant. Practical implications: Special guardianship has been in place for 12 years now, but apart from Jim Wade’s 2014 study there has been no major research to guide and inform practice. Such major changes in child welfare require substantiating research, and this study is an attempt to begin filling that gap. The questionnaire part of this study has for the first time provided data on the views, motivations and practice of social workers across the country making recommendations on special guardianship contact. Social implications: The study provides a picture of the type of contact being recommended for birth parents. This information will be useful for practitioners, who might otherwise not know what their colleagues in other local authorities are recommending, and it is hoped that this will encourage further debate on the subject. Originality/value: Special guardianship has so far been poorly served by research. To the author’s knowledge, apart from Wade’s study there is very little research on the subject, and no significant research at all on special guardianship contact. This questionnaire, alongside the four focus groups that formed the second part of the study, provides the first picture of current practice across the country.

  • Let’s talk about adaptation! How individuals discuss adaptation during evidence-based practice implementation

    Purpose: Researchers suggest that adaptation should be a planned process, with practitioners actively consulting with program developers or academic partners, but few studies have examined how adaptation unfolds during evidence-based practice (EBP) implementation. The purpose of this paper is to describe real-world adaptation discussions and the conditions under which they occurred during the implementation of a new practice across multiple county child welfare systems. Design/methodology/approach: This study qualitatively examines 127 meeting notes to understand how implementers and researchers talk about adaptation during the implementation of SafeCare, an EBP aimed at reducing child maltreatment and neglect. Findings: Several types of adaptation discussions emerged. First, because it appeared difficult to get staff to talk about adaptation in group settings, meeting participants discussed factors that hindered adaptation conversations. Next, they discussed types of adaptations that they made or would like to make. Finally, they discussed adaptation as a normal part of SafeCare implementation. Research limitations/implications: Limitations include data collection by a single research team member and focus on a particular EBP. However, this study provides new insight into how stakeholders naturally discuss adaptation needs, ideas and concerns. Practical implications: Understanding adaptation discussions can help managers engage frontline staff who are using newly implemented EBPs, identify adaptation needs and solutions, and proactively support individuals who are balancing adaptation and fidelity during implementation. Originality/value: This study’s unique data captured in vivo interactions that occurred at various time points during the implementation of an EBP rather than drawing upon data collected from more scripted and cross-sectional formats. Multiple child welfare and implementation stakeholders and types of interactions were examined.

  • Self-protective strategies of parents with ADHD and their children as mediated by sensitivity – a multiple-case study

    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the parental sensitivity and self-protective strategies of parents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and those of their children. Design/methodology/approach: Six parents with ADHD and their under 3-years-old children participated. One parent took part with her both children. The data included seven parent-child dyads. The parents were interviewed with the modified Adult Attachment Interview. Parental sensitivity was assessed using the CARE-Index. The self-protective strategies of the children were assessed with The Strange Situation Procedure or the Preschool Assessment of Attachment. Findings: The study showed a variety of the self-protective strategies of parents with ADHD as well as those of their children. Three subgroups were formed on the basis of risk as indicated by Crittenden’s gradient of transformation of information. Parents displayed complex self-protective strategies as well as unresolved traumas, which impaired their sensitivity and ability to engage in mutual regulation of arousal and emotion. The parents’ needs of self-protection compromised their ability to protect and comfort their child that is their sensitivity. The children’s protective strategies matched those of their parents in regard to complexity as mediated by parental sensitivity. Originality/value: This multiple-case study demonstrates new ideas to be tested with quantitative methods in larger samples. There are no previous studies which have examined both the attachment strategies and sensitivity of parents with ADHD connecting these with the evolving attachment strategies of their children.

  • The views of social workers and special guardians on planning contact for special guardianship children

    Purpose: Special guardianship order (SGO) assessments require social workers to make plans and recommendations for ongoing post-SGO contact between the child and the parents. However, there is very little policy to inform and guide practitioners on how these duties should be undertaken, and no studies that describe current practice. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how the recommending of contact in special guardianship cases is currently working, by holding focus groups with social workers and special guardians. This paper reports on the results of a study to examine what contact plans social workers are recommending, the thinking behind their decisions and the views of the special guardians who have to make those plans work. Design/methodology/approach: The research involved a mixed methods approach comprising of an online questionnaire, two focus groups for social workers and two focus groups for special guardians. This paper describes the second part of the study and reports on the qualitative results from the four focus groups. The methodology was based on a pragmatist theoretical position, and used an interpretivist approach and elements of the analytical procedure of grounded theory in order to generate inductive research. The focus group method was chosen as the best way to gather rich information on the opinions and ideas of practitioners who are recommending contact and the carers who are managing it. Findings: Participants provided a wide range of views on the issues, with practitioners describing the challenges of planning contact, and special guardians explaining the problems they faced with the parents. Involving special guardians in the study gave a chance to include the different perspectives of the people who have to make the contact recommendations work, and contrast their views on contact planning with those of the professionals. The study makes recommendations for practice, which recognise the difficulty of preparing an initial contact plan that will remain relevant for years ahead. Research limitations/implications: The number of focus groups the author held was limited by the author’s own personal resources and the time the author had available, and one group only had three social workers on the day. The author’s involvement affected the responses, and the author’s questions dictated the issues that were commented on, but the answers were the opinions that the participants wanted to express. The nature of the approach means that no two sets of focus group results would ever be the same. And as the direction of the discussions was largely dictated by the participants, the coverage of all aspects of contact was probably inconsistent. Practical implications: This research sheds light on a crucial area of social work permanency planning, that has suffered from a lack of previous research, in order to better inform future practice. The paper reports on what contact plans social workers are recommending, the thinking behind their decisions and the views of the special guardians who have to make those plans work. It concludes with recommendations for improving future special guardianship policy and practice. Social implications: The research clearly raises a number of specific difficulties faced by special guardians and problems with current policy and practice. These include the special guardians’ lack of understanding about contact, the difficulty for social workers of long-term planning, the challenge posed by uncooperative parents who behave badly, the view of carers for the need for a greater emphasis on the quality and reliability of contact, and the challenge to careful contact planning posed by the adversarial court process. Originality/value: Special guardianship has had a major impact on permanency planning since its introduction 12 years ago. However, apart from one DfE study in 2014, very little research has been produced to inform policy and practice. There have been no studies specifically on contact in special guardianship cases, despite contact being one of the two major factors in determining the success of SGO placements. This study has provided the first in-depth evaluation of social worker contact planning in special guardianship, and the first investigation of special guardians’ views on contact.

  • Psychosocial support for orphans and vulnerable children in a community-based organization in Kericho, Kenya

    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the views of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) on the kind of psychosocial support they receive in a community-based organization (CBO) in Kenya. Design/methodology/approach: This is a mixed approach study that utilized a qualitative approach through individual interviews and quantitative approach through the use of unstructured and structured questionnaire for data collection. This mixed approach was selected since rich information could be obtained from individual interviews and was validated through quantitative data. Qualitative data were collected through individual interviews for OVC, social workers and child counseling psychologist. The items used in the individual interview guide were generated based on three areas of research interests, namely, psychological, educational and social interventions. The individual interview questions focused on what was currently being offered to OVC, their views about such services, the challenges they might be facing and suggestions for improvement. The unstructured questionnaire was designed in an open-ended manner to allow the respondents to express their views freely on the kind of psychosocial support they were receiving within the CBO. The unstructured questionnaire was divided into thematic areas, namely, psychological support, social support and educational support. The structured questionnaire was used to collect data on psychosocial support that children receive within the CBO. The items were in form of a “YES/NO” format since the children could be able to understand them so easily and respond accordingly. Both methods of data collection were selected to allow triangulation of data and improve the credibility and generalizability of data. Findings: The findings of this study revealed that the psychosocial support for the OVC was taken care of within the CBO. The OVC get psychological support through the counseling and peer-group support, while educational intervention was done through the provision of school uniforms and educational materials. But there is a need to encourage the families to engage in income generating activities so as to help them become independent instead of overburdening the CBO which is already straining in terms of resources. The OVC also get health care support as well as shelter and accommodation. Research limitations/implications: The study had few limitations just like any other study. One of the limitations was the few numbers of participants who took part in the study. A larger sample could have provided more information that can easily be generalized to other OVC within any given organization. But despite this limitation, the information obtained was useful in shedding light on the kind of psychosocial support that the OVC is receiving within the CBO. Practical implications: Resources are required for an extensive research to establish the effectiveness of such services on improving the lives of OVC within the society rather than the superficial way of care without considering their psychosocial well-being. This study recommends that more support is required from the governments, the donors and other international bodies to support the escalating numbers of OVC within the society. Social implications: Since the numbers of OVC are escalating globally, the findings of this study could add value to the importance of psychosocial support that the OVC receive within the CBO. It also gives directions for policy and program development that targets OVC in Kenya and in other parts of the world. Originality/value: This is a research paper whereby the data were collected from the OVC and analyzed to generate first-hand information.

  • Qualitative research with primary school-aged children: ethical and practical considerations of evaluating a safeguarding programme in schools

    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the ethical and practical challenges of working with primary school-aged children to conduct qualitative service evaluations regarding sensitive safeguarding topics. Design/methodology/approach: The paper centres on the author’s learnings from conducting school-based, task-assisted focus groups with 5–11 year olds. The reflections are drawn from notes made during fieldwork, debrief discussions with evaluation colleagues and wider team debates. This was a consultative participatory evaluation and the findings are situated within the wider literature around rights-based approaches to research. Findings: Using multi-method and creative approaches can facilitate young children to assent and dissent from service evaluation in a school setting. However, the challenges of helping children understand confidentiality are highlighted, as is the challenge for researchers in recognising and responding in situ to disclosures. Using suitable and creative activities, this evaluation demonstrates that primary school children can contribute meaningful data to assist with service development. However, the approach to collecting these data from the youngest children needs careful consideration. Practical implications: Researchers may need to adopt full participatory methods to better help children understand the confidentiality bounds of research and to form views on the subject matter. More discussion is needed in the wider safeguarding research literature to show how researchers have navigated the challenges of handling disclosures. Originality/value: This paper contributes to the literature by providing examples of how to overcome issues of children’s participation, consent and protection in service evaluation focussed on a sensitive topic.

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