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Infusing child protection social work with social work values :. constructing ‘risk’ in empowering ways?. Risk – unavoidable, uncertain, contingent. ‘To be alive at all involves some risk’ Harold Macmillan in ( Stalker, 2003:211 ). Infusion means:

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Infusing child protection social work with social work values

Infusing child protection social work with social work values:

constructing ‘risk’ in empowering ways?

Emily Keddell - University of Otago – [email protected]

Risk unavoidable uncertain contingent
Risk – unavoidable, uncertain, contingent values

‘To be alive at all involves some risk’ Harold Macmillan in (Stalker, 2003:211).

Infusion means:

“To steep or soak without boiling in order to extract soluble elements or active principles” (The Free Dictonary:

  • Empowerment? Shaped by divergence of rights, social control, managerialist environment, risk society and more…

The risks of risk
The risks of ‘risk’ values

  • Individualised constructions of client problems: blame, sanctions and removal of the offender or child, with little regard for the restoration of relationships or actual needs of the child.

  • A ‘risk’ society (Beck 1992) assumes the ubiquitous presence of risk, and the ability to both quantify and regulate risks of all kinds. Turns social workers into technocrats.

  • Neutralisation of ethics.

  • So are social work practices therefore hopelessly doomed to reproduce these dominant discourses? …and be reactionary, risk averse, defensive, blaming, technocratic, paternalistic, individualistic and operate in congruence with neo-liberal political aspirations?

Empowerment participation collaboration
Empowerment? Participation? Collaboration? values

  • Participation is often taken as “ an unquestionable good, whilst practices that do not conform to this ideal are associated with paternalism and considered to be antithetical to just child protection practice…This is because these discourses do not engage with the expectations associated with child protection work, in particular the use of statutory power that such practice demands” (Healy 1999: 897).

  • SO must be adapted to the context, most obviously to the at times conflicting rights of parents and children

How social workers deal with these tensions
How social workers deal with these tensions values

  • Qualitative study of 22 social workers and 13 other case stakeholders including, where appropriate, parents, young people, foster carers.

  • Large NGO

  • Showed more complex reactions to the negative forces described earlier – and many were successful in implementing aspects of empowerment in self-defined ‘pleasing cases’. Clients generally supported this, although they had divergence in their views of risk and evaluations of empowerment at points in time during the life of the case.

So what did they do
So what did they do? values

  • Used the concept of ‘respect’ to delimit the areas of clients’ lives that were subject to social control – that is, those specifically and rigorously defined as harmful to children

  • Communicated in language understandable to clients – both adults and children

  • Took a long-term view of child well-being, and ascertained children’s views

  • Avoided reactivity – helps calm the stresses of practice (Howe, 2010)

  • Promoted relationship maintenance as a method of managing risk – strong commitment to honesty and trustworthiness

  • Used safety oriented assessment and planning tools

  • Incorporated Indigenous models and worldviews

Long term view avoiding reactivity relationship focus
Long term view, avoiding reactivity, relationship focus values

“Yeah, and trying to balance out what would be – what’s the gain of keeping them in care longer versus the damage of putting them into another family when they’ve already had heaps of instability….So it’s been pretty scary, and I – at times I would have liked to have jumped ahead and just pulled the kids out, you know, because that felt like the safest – the safest way to go. But… I think that looking back on it I can see the way we’ve done things has meant that she’s made changes that she wouldn’t have made otherwise …And that she’s been willing to work with us. That she wouldn’t be otherwise. Um, but, yeah – ah, just so draining. And often feeling like you might take two steps forward and one step back”. SW14, C8.

Using safety oriented tools in this case signs of safety turnell edwards 1999
Using safety oriented tools – in this case Signs of Safety (Turnell & Edwards, 1999)

  • This provides a format for detailed information gathering and ‘changing the focus’ from trying to evaluate risk based on previous abusive behaviour to what needs to happen for future safety:

    Int: “And so how do you think doing the signs of safety approach has affected the way you think about risk?

    Because we’ve done the history, we’ve done the family stuff … you know, just more questions that actually give you a better picture of the risk, not just the risk but, if the child stays with you, then how is it going to be safe?” SW10 S, C2.

More on sos finding exceptions and bringing in others to contribute to safety
More on SoS: finding exceptions and bringing in others to contribute to safety:

“ ..we had two baby cases where – one where Dad said I’m gonna smash this baby against the wall and squash it like a bug, and another one who said let’s throw it out the window – like in a really short space of time – quite high risk! – um, and we – we were able to use the Signs of Safety approach in safety planning and not remove those children. And we’ve never taken it to FGC. Which, I’m like, that’s pretty cool. (laughs)

Int: Because what would have happened without that?

Oh, well we would have freaked out.

Int: You think?

Safety continued increasing response options by focussing on safety
Safety continued…increasing response options by focussing on safety

“Int: Right. So when someone makes it a sort of hugely provocative statement like that…before you would have just acted on that statement?

Oh we would have gone ‘Baby – unsafe!’ Take it out now. Done. Easily. Probably. Or, ‘Dad leave the home right now’. That would have been our only way of …of dealing with it… we did Signs of Safety that afternoon – it just happened to be that everyone was in the office when they came back from that visit and so we mapped it straight away and then went back out within a day and put a plan in place in an afternoon so we were good…

Safety cont using exceptions to build safety instead of react to risk
Safety cont…using exceptions to build safety instead of react to risk

…But whereas I absolutely know that if we hadn’t used that approach we would have just gone straight to take the baby. Yeah. Cause you could have easily written an affadavit, it wouldn’t have been hard to convince a judge.

Int: So what … convinced you that the child was safe?

…they (social workers) had a conversation with the mum about what she did when she – how she acted protectively in those times….so it was pretty… um, and it was all around saying what was she gonna do when she saw him begin to escalate…

Safety cont planning good enough parent
Safety cont… planning, ‘good enough’ parent react to risk

..cause he … had PTSD and all sorts of stuff, flashbacks. And sometimes he would just click like that …So it was about him never being left alone with the baby and putting the supports around all of that stuff.

Int: And the mother was obviously able to do it?

Yeah. She wasn’t… (laughs) you know – she was alright. She was good enough. And we dragged in some family and some support people that they had to also be involved so... yeah. That was good …the baby’s fine”. SW17, C10.

Incorporation of indigenous knowledge commitment to transparency and openness
Incorporation of indigenous knowledge, commitment to transparency and openness

“The kopu – I do their kopu, and the signs of safety I take from the kopu, what is concerning and what is helpful and that … and with the signs of safety I take it to the family, after I’ve finished doing that up I give it to them and I get them to look at that, they get blown away, they go, ‘oh, sheeks, really, oh God’, but they’re really good, they think it’s good when they can see it and that’s what they have found with (the agency) and the families I’ve worked with, that nothing’s hidden, nothing’s hidden from them” SW21.

Indigenous worldview continued
Indigenous worldview continued… transparency and openness

“It’s been really interesting because I’ve spoken to a family and I said ok, where shall we start? and they say, ‘tapu, what does that mean?’, because tapu can mean so many things to different Māori you see, so it’s a good place to start, - and what I would usually say, is ok, it’s your bottom lines … what do you hold so dear that you will protect that thing, but it can also be ...something that is precious that has been broken; and the whanau said to me, ‘well you know we had our children removed from us and placed with ...caregivers without consulting the wider whanau, the mother was the only one that’s consulted, so therefore we feel that’s tapu, that’s broken and the brokenness is that we now have grandchildren living outside the whanau’, so they wanted to put that right up there, and that was their bottom line, that was what they wanted to work against.

Int: And how did you try and deal with that?

I didn’t, I just recorded it for them, I just put it up there and I said, ‘fine’” SW20.

What challenges the ability of these practices to be experienced as empowering
What challenges the ability of these practices to be experienced as empowering?

  • In some cases, safety/solution focused practices and the exclusive reliance on mental health discourses to explain clients’ problems can obscure macro level causes of client situations such as poverty and gender in equality

  • Paradoxically, aiming to keep children with their families, or return them, requires high levels of commitment to change from clients – some parents resented the pressure to change.

  • Confusion about the role of psychological theories such as attachment or psychodynamic theories of the causes of human behavior.

  • Some parents viewed risk as connected to the withdrawal of social worker support, and used their power to resist this withdrawal.

  • Lack of resourcing of long term relationships

What helps support these micro practices
What helps support these micro practices? experienced as empowering?

What is the relationship between these empowerment practices in the construction of risk and safety, and the organisational, national policy, and theoretical contexts they are embedded in?

  • Organisational values as a ‘buffer’ – respect for the person

  • National orientation – child welfare and child focussed

  • Ethical engagement and awareness

  • Strong reflection and supervision processes – employing qualified social workers

  • Practice tools adapted to the child protection context

Bibliography experienced as empowering?

Bauman, Z. (1993). Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Beck, U. (1992). World risk society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Broadhurst, K., Hall, C., Wastell, D., White, S., & Pithouse, A. (2010). Risk, instrumentalism and the humane project in social work: identifying the informal logics of risk management in children's statutory services. British Journal of Social Work(40), 1046 - 1064.

Christie, & Mittler. (1999). Partnership and core groups in the risk society. Child & Family Social Work, 4(3), 231-240. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2206.1999.00118.x

Gilbert, N., Parton, N., & Skivenes, M. (2011). Child Protection Systems: International Trends and Orientations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gillingham, P. (2010). Child Protection Practitioners and Decision-Making Tools: Observations and Reflections from the Front Line. Brisith Journal of Social Work, 40(8), 2598-2616

Gillingham, P., & Bromfield, L. (2008). Child protection, risk assessment and blame ideology. Children Australia, 33(1), 18 - 24.

Healy, K. (1999). Participation and child protection: the importance of context. British Journal of Social Work, 28(897 - 914).

Holland, S. (1999). Discourses of decision making in child protection: conducting comprehensive assessments in Britain. International Journal of Social Welfare(8), 277 - 287.

Houston, S., & Griffiths, H. (2000). Reflections on risk in child protection: is it time for a shift in paradigms? Child and Family Social Work(5), 1 - 10.

Howe, D. (2010). The safety of children and the parent-worker relationship in cases of child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse Review, 19(5), 330-341. doi: 10.1002/car.1136

Hoys, D. C. (2004). Critical Resistance: From Poststructuralism to Post-Critique. Cambridge, MA: Massachussets Instititue of Technology.

Ife, J (1999) Rethinking Social Work. Longman, NSW.

Jack, G. (1997). Discourses of child protection and child welfare. British Journal of Social Work, 27, 659 - 678.

Khoo, E. G., Hyvönen, U., & Nygren, L. (2002). Child Welfare or Child Protection

Uncovering Swedish and Canadian Orientations to Social Intervention in Child Maltreatment. Qualitative Social Work 1(4), 451 - 471.

Bibliography experienced as empowering?

Lonne, B., Parton, N., Thomson, J., & Harries, M. (2008). Reforming Child Protection. Londnond and New York: Routledge.

Parton, N. (2006). Safeguarding childhood: early intervention and surveillance in a late modern society. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Parton, N., Thorpe, D., & Wattam, C. (1997). Child protection: risk and the moral order. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Spratt, T. (2001). The Influence of Child Protection Orientation on Child Welfare Practice. British Journal of Social Work, 31(6), 933-954. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/31.6.933

Stalker, K. (2003). Managing risk and uncertainty in social work: a literature review. Journal of Social Work, 3(2), 211 - 233.

Stanford, S. (2010). 'Speaking back' to fear: responding to the moral dilemmas of risk in social work practice. British Journal of Social Work, 40, 1065 - 1080.

Stanley, T. (2007). Risky work: child protection practice. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand(30), 163 - 193.

Tronto, J. (1994). Moral Boundaries: A poltical Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York: Routledge.