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The ethic of care in families. Thinking about and working with the ethic of care. What is the ethic of care?. It has its origins in diverse disciplines such as psychology and moral philosophy

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the ethic of care in families

The ethic of care in families

Thinking about and working with the ethic of care

what is the ethic of care
What is the ethic of care?
  • It has its origins in diverse disciplines such as psychology and moral philosophy
  • In recent decades it has been taken on board by political theorists and feminists in particular when thinking about social policy
  • It is underdeveloped in social work but has been applied to thinking about practices in families and social work practices
what is the ethics of care
What is the ethics of care?
  • It celebrates our interdependence as human beings - we all need care at different points of the life cycle and in different ways
  • It argues for a different value system in society so that care is recognised and supported properly
  • It seeks to render care visible and links it to citizenship
  • In families it is interested in everyday practices and meanings and seeks to understand these rather than to dismiss or judge them
  • Thus it is critical of contemporary social work practices that seek to assign meanings

It is concerned to render care visible and the ethic of care that is visible in the most deprived families and communities but is also being used to understand why care might be difficult or compromised

Why might this happen for children and young people?

Research suggests the following:

Poverty and inequality

Domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues and mental health

poverty and inequality
Poverty and inequality
  • These are linked but not the same
  • Poverty does not cause bad parenting but makes good parenting harder
  • Key issues are lack of social support and cumulative trauma
  • Inequality – huge research evidence on how more unequal societies are societies with greater social problems and where trust is less evident between different groups – less social solidarity – affects everyone including social workers and families- SHAME

Those who come into the child protection system are from the most deprived parts of the society

  • Eight times more likely to be in care if you come from one area than from a richer area (Bywaters et al, forthcoming)
  • Thus as Aboriginal and first national people have pointed out, there are very important issues of social justice to be addressed
the toxic trio
The ‘toxic trio’
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental health
  • Drug and alcohol issues
  • However, we need to understand these from the bottom up rather see them as categories of risk simply
  • That serves to obscure the people and their practices and the meanings they attach to them
social work practices with families
Social work practices with families
  • Much of our practices are very authoritarian and short –term – not holistic
  • They are very gendered – focus is on mothers
  • Example – Jenny’s story of domestic violence
  • Risk is individualised
  • Family Group Conferences
  • These come from the MAORI tradition
  • Their concern was that too many of their children were being lost from their communities
  • Social work practices did not work with their traditions and strengths
  • These are now used across the world –
  • Lots of evidence about process and effectiveness
  • One finding is that men do attend more than traditional processes
  • Domestic violence
  • Family Group Conferences are used here with whole family
  • Projects with men: Caring Dads
  • Strength to Change
  • Lack of integration .....
  • Family Drug and Alcohol Treatment Courts in London and Milton Keynes
  • Judge led, multi-disciplinary and within the timescales for the child
  • Evaluation very positive – especially good findings about men
  • Signs of Safety
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Parents Support and Advocacy Services
what is happening
What is happening?
  • Some recognition that practice starts from a deficit position and is too risk saturated
  • Thus trust and engagement are too difficult
  • We need a different paradigm rooted not just in techniques but in respect and a recognition of the difficulties of caring in an unequal society and that our services can compound stigma and shame and become part of the problem

Bywaters, P (forthcoming) 'Inequalities in child welfare: towards a new policy, research and action agenda', British Journal of Social Work.

Cosser, J., Brandon, M. and Jordon, P. (2011) Don’t Make Assumptions: Children’s Experiences of the Child Protection System and Messages for Change, London: Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Featherstone, B. (2009) Contemporary Fathering: Theory, Policy and Practice, Bristol: The Policy Press.

Featherstone, B., Fraser C., Ashley, C. and Ledward P. (2011) ‘Advocacy for parents and carers involved with children’s services: making a difference to working in partnership? Child and Family Social Work, vol 16, no 3, pp 266-75


Featherstone, B. and Fraser, C. (2012) ‘“I’m just a mother: they’re all professionals”: Advocacy for Parents as an Aid to Parental Engagement’, Child and Family Social Work, vol17, no 2, pp 244-53

Frost, P. and Hoggett, P. (2008) ‘Human Agency and Social Suffering’, Critical Social Policy, vol 28, no 4, pp 438-60.

Gilbert, N., Parton, N. and Skiveness, M. (2011) ‘Changing Patterns of Responses and Emerging Orientations’ in N. Gilbert, N. Parton and M. Skiveness (eds) Child Protection Systems: International Trends and Orientations, Oxford University Press: Oxford.


Hooper, C-A., Gorin, S., Cabral, C. and Dyson, C. (2007) Living with Hardship 24/7: The diverse experiences of families in poverty in England, London: The Frank Buttle Trust.

Lonne, B., Parton, N., Thomson, J. and Harries, M. (2009) Reforming Child Protection, London: Routledge

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies always do better, London: Penguin.