The future of child protection may not be in local government

Publication Date18 Sep 2017
AuthorStephen Rice
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
The future of child protection may not be
in local government
Stephen Rice
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to offer a view about the future of childrens social work from the
perspective of a frontline practitioner.
Design/methodology/approach Reflections of a frontline practitioner are based on his experience of
practising social work with children and families.
Findings The professional task of assessment and intervention in order to protect the nations children
from significant harm is probably one of the most complex in modern society. However, a focus on gathering
too much information and the need for certainty can be detrimental to analysis and judgement. Further,
the most complex and challenging part of the social work task, namely, direct work in the family home, is
rarely subject to formally structured analysis or feedback. There is insufficient analysis of good practice, and
the organisational conditions that will promote and sustain it, but there are alternative models, including
outside local government and including from other countries, that appear promising.
Originality/value The study offers the perspective of a frontline children and families social worker on
issues facing the profession.
Keywords Families, Children, Practice, Social work, Child protection, Family support
Paper type Viewpoint
I am a practitioner. In this paper, I give my view about the future of social work for children. It is
one view. I do not speak for the profession. I am not an advocate for any particular model of
organisation, or any particular delivery model. I want to generate a debate about the
organisational conditions conducive to good child protection practice. I am aware that to
question the capacity of governments to provide these conditions is to invite strong reactions.
On the other hand, there are serious questions about the future of childrens social work, and a
large portion of this debate, which focusses on the practice system itself, is yet to begin. I invite
you, the reader, to hold back from ascribing a political position to what I write, but instead to read
with curiosity and a critical view about how the profession might best develop.
There is something fundamentally broken about the way in which childrens services
departments in local authorities in England go about their business. The structure developed
over decades of top-down control has led to a practice system incompatible with social work
values, where workers feel frustrated and exhausted. Despite widespread acknowledgement
that organisational cultures need to change, reform attempts have been largely unsuccessful.
The vast majority of childrens social workerstime continues to be spent feeding the machine,
and good practice takes place, along with good supervision, within organisational structures that
largely fail to prioritise and reinforce that practice.
Received 7 September 2017
Accepted 7 September 2017
Stephen Rice is based at
Safeguarding and Family
Support, Islington Council,
London, UK.
VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 138-143, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660 DOI 10.1108/JCS-09-2017-0041

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