Personal social services for children and families in the UK: a historical review

Publication Date18 September 2017
AuthorRoger Bullock,Roy Parker
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
Personal social services for children and
families in the UK: a historical review
Roger Bullock and Roy Parker
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to chart the history of personal social services for children and
families in the UK and examine the factors that have influenced it. Special attention is given to changing
perceptions of rights, the impact of scandals and the contribution of child development research.
Design/methodology/approach Analysis of historical documents and research reports using four
methods: a timeline of milestones, demarcation of distinct developmental periods, trends in policy and
practice and comparisons of childrens needs and experiences at different times.
Findings The evolution of services has not been linear. In policy, there have been reform and retrenchment,
amalgamation and differentiation. Practice has been shaped by the emergence of new problems and the
disappearance of old ones as well as by legislation, extreme events, research and finance, all occurring in
specific political, moral and economic contexts.
Originality/value An analysis of developments in childrens services in their political, economic, moral and
research contexts.
Keywords Policy development, Child and family services, Child care history, Child care legislation,
Child well-being, Childrens services
Paper type General review
It is a maxim of historians that we can only understand the present state of affairs by looking at its
history. A review of how services have evolved, therefore, is likely to offer a useful introduction to
discussions about the future of childrens services, the focus of this special edition.
There are several ways of doing this: one is to chart changes using a timeline of important
milestones; a second is to demarcate distinct periods that encapsulate policy developments;
a third is to identify trends and a fourth is to compare situations at different points in time. Each
has its strengths and weaknesses: milestones overestimate the significance of events, trend
analysis implies a smooth evolution and snapshot comparisons are affected by the context in
which services operated at the time. But in combination, each can strengthen explanations and
help with understanding how and why things are as they are. So, all four methods will be used.
One problem, however, is that numerous factors influence child care policy and practice and the
interaction between them is complex. Reformist zeal, war, research, legislation and scandal have
all been significant at particular times. Moreover, a force for change in one situation can hold
things back in others and the reasons why a move for reform gains (or fails to gain) political
momentum and public support depends on many variables. As it would be impossible to
consider all of these, particular emphasis in this paper will be given to the changing perceptions
of rights, the impact of scandals and the contribution of child development research.
One other note of caution in discussing UK child and family services arises from the fact that each
UK country has its own legislation, administrative arrangements and service structure. Scotland,
for instance, operated a unique poor law and education system and always preferred foster
placements for children in care. In addition, the age of criminal responsibility is eight and child
Received 28 March 2017
Revised 23 May 2017
Accepted 27 June 2017
Roger Bullock is an Emeritus
Professor of Child Welfare
Research at the University of
Bristol and a Former Director of
the Dartington Social Research
Unit, UK.
Roy Parker (1932-2017) was
based at the School of
Sociology Politics and
International Studies, University
of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
PAG E 72
VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 72-84, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660 DOI 10.1108/JCS-03-2017-0007

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