People and systems: reflections on the development of social work for children

Date18 September 2017
Publication Date18 September 2017
AuthorMichael Little
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Children's services,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Children/youth,Parents,Education,Early childhood education,Home culture,Social/physical development
People and systems: reflections on the
development of social work for children
Michael Little
Purpose The purpose of this pape r is to explore the aspects of social work for childr en, primarily
in England.
Design/methodology/approach It is based on reflections on research undertaken by the author prior to
1995 and after 2015.
Findings The paper explores the interaction between people effective leaders and practitioners and
Research limitations/implications It is an opinion piece, and does not present findings from a
single study.
Practical implications It urges systems that do not restrict the capability of practitioners.
Social implications The value of social work services at times of significant social disadvantage demands
strong public policy attention.
Originality/value The study draws on several research and case studies in over 20 English local authorities
Keywords History, Systems, Families, Practice, Children, Social work
Paper type Viewpoint
In 1995, I was part of a team that prepared what became known as the Blue Book,
Child Protection: Messages from Research, a summary of emerging evidence from 15 or so
specifically commissioned studies on child maltreatment and its implication for practice
(Department of Health, 1995). The book was lauded as a breakthrough in child protection social
work, although subsequent research by my colleagues showed that it had little impact on what
social workers did day by day (Weyts et al., 2000). (At the time, I got to thinking of child protection
experts as either left wing, meaning they wanted to keep the child at home no matter what,
or right wing, indicating a fervour to rescue children the maltreatment of whom was minor.
The Blue Book seemed to satisfy both wings, hence its limited impact).
The experience prompted me to switch my attention to effective prevention and early intervention
for all children, including but not just those known to social workers (Little and Mount, 1999).
I wanted to study changes in how practitioners of all kinds did their work, and to evaluate its
impact on children and families. I became a generalist, and for two decades or more, my contact
with and knowledge about the high-end system of social work ebbed away.
I came back to it in 2015 after listening to the stories that Clare Chamberlain (see the interview
with her in this edition) told me about the variations in social work practice around the country.
I went on a couple of inspections with Ofsted to understand the process and to get a sense of the
quality of management and practice in local authorities. I then spent time observing social work Received 3 September 2017
Accepted 4 September 2017
Michael Little is based at the
Centre for Social Policy,
Dartington, UK.
DOI 10.1108/JCS-09-2017-0037 VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 113-121, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660
PAG E 11 3

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