Supporting practice: reflections on a career in children’s social work

Publication Date18 Sep 2017
AuthorClare Chamberlain,Michael 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
Supporting practice: reflections on a
career in childrens social work
Clare Chamberlain and Michael Little
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to reflect on development in childrens social work over 35 years from
the perspective of someone who has worked in the field as a practitioner and director.
Design/methodology/approach Interview.
Findings The paper provides insights into implementing the Reclaiming Social Work model and how
systems can better support social work practice with children and families.
Originality/value The paper offers a unique perspective on developments in the field and implications for
the future of childrens social work.
Keywords Systems, Families, Practice, Children, Social work, Reclaiming Social Work
Paper type Viewpoint
ML: Lets start with your personal history as a social worker.
CC: I have always thought that if you are going to spend 40 hours a week at work you might as well
do something useful during that time. I wanted to work in the public sector and Ive never really
waveredfrom that. I started off as a teacherI am a failed teacher I suppose. I liked the idea of it but
Iwasnt much good at it. So I switched into a role that was somewhere between teaching and social
work. I was supporting adults with learning difficulties. That was my entry point into social work.
But if I tot up my time, roughly 35 years since I qualified as a social worker, about 25 years
have been spent in management or leadership positions. I still describe myself as a social
worker but in fact, once I became a manager I virtually stopped b eing directly invol ved in
practice. Unlike law or medicine, in social work as you move up the hierarchy you generally lose
face-to-face contact with families. You can choose to be involved in practice but during my
time on the whole man agers did not. I miss b eing directly inv olved in practice, a nd I would
suggest that by systematically removing managers from practice, there is a collective loss of a
wealth of experience in social work practice which we dont use as well as we might.
ML: Could you go back into practice now?
CC: I could, but I would be nervous after so long of not being in practice. Recently, in response to
a particular situation, I found myself acting as a duty manager for frontline social work, a role
which is not unfamiliar to me, and which involves assessing the work that comes in, deciding on
its priority and who should pick it up, then monitoring activity to make sure that things get done.
It seemed to me to be much more immediately demanding than being Director of Childrens
Services, and I felt the responsibility keenly. The experience was a reminder of just how hard the
job is, and the immediate impact of every decision you make having a direct consequence on
peoples lives.
Received 5 September 2017
Accepted 5 September 2017
Clare Chamberlain is based
Centre for Systemic Practice,
London, UK.
Michael Little is based at the
Centre for Social Policy,
Dartington, UK.
VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 122-126, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660 DOI 10.1108/JCS-09-2017-0038

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