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Challenges for Policy and Practice. Sue White Professor of Social Work (Children and Families) University of Birmingham. What went wrong? First, the system!. Real Problems (which persist, internationally). Social work is politically charged and this creates the problem of hubris.....

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challenges for policy and practice

Challenges for Policy and Practice

Sue White

Professor of Social Work (Children and Families)

University of Birmingham


What went wrong?

First, the system!


Social work is politically charged and this creates the problem of hubris.....

Strong but wrong solutions – BLAME


The overall effectiveness of local authority arrangements for the protection of children is inadequate. In February 2009, the Secretary of State issued an improvement notice to Birmingham City Council due to poor performance in safeguarding children and young people. A further improvement notice was issued in September 2010 and during 2011, a major restructure and overhaul of children’s services was undertaken with the oversight of the Improvement Board’. Since the first improvement notice, Ofsted has undertaken a Safeguarding and Looked After Children inspection and two unannounced inspections of the council’s contact, referral and assessment arrangements for children and young people. Concerns with regards to the quality of practice in protecting children have been raised in all three inspection reports (Ofsted, 2012:16) Did you hear we became inadequate? We have been in a grief cycle since then. I got a bit of perspective back when my Dad died. Ofsted has left us running round like headless chickens - we are now going to rush into a restructure. We have not heard much from Munro. I’m fearing that it is going to go into a black hole with Ofsted challenging all the way. I don't feel inadequate, but maybe I am? (personal correspondence, 2013 Senior Manager, previously high performing authority)


Selecting ‘evidence’ is political and moral

...“evidence” for policy making is not sitting in journals ready to be harvested... Rather, it is dynamically created through the human interaction around the policy making table – and, probably more significantly, the lobbying, campaigning and interpersonal influencing going on in the back rooms and corridors leading up to official policy making meetings. (Greenhalgh and Russell, 2006: 36-37).

moral project
Moral Project
  • Future oriented project building on elements of moral underclass discourses.
  • Unforgiving approach to time and to parents - improve quickly or within the set time limits.
  • It is shored up by a particularly potent neuroscientific argument which has been widely critiqued from within neuroscience itself but is unchallenged in current policy
  • Narrow version of Evidence (when it suits them)

Blinded by neuroscience: social policy, the family and the infant brain - Dave Wastell and Sue White , Families, Relationships and Society, 2012.

No. care proceedings has doubled to over 10,000 in last 3 yrs

Due to better understanding of the effect of neglectful parenting and the physical damage it can do to the brains of very young children

Parents who are neglectful or who are drunk, drugged or violent, will have impaired capacity to provide this social and emotional stability, and will create the likelihood that adverse experiences might have a negative impact on their children’s development … the worst and deepest damage is done to children when their brains are being formed during their earliest months and years.


The review discusses a range of literature, some of it straightforward, uncontroversial and helpful knowledge on child maltreatment and the cause of delay in the courts.

  • The authors state that the evidence in the main body of the report is drawn ‘from papers which reported on, or which provided a methodologically sound review of primary research’ (p9), complemented by recent government funded reports and material which can be ‘easily accessed by family justice professionals’, such as the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University (on which, more later!)
  • Much of the report, whilst purporting to be a rigorous scientific evaluation of the neurodevelopmental knowledge-base, has relied heavily on synthesised secondary sources from the Harvard site and non-peer reviewed text books.
  • It may thus be described more accurately as an excessively simplified guide to a complex field of work, where knowledge is far from settled and certainly not “policy ready”. In essence, it (mis) presents current debates within the field as reflecting consensually agreed, certain knowledge
this is not a good time to be a family in poverty in england
This is not a good time to be a family in poverty in England
  • Pre-occupation with early years
  • Very little ‘ordinary help’
  • Muscular State paternalism in child protection
  • More and more children pulled into the care system
  • The system itself is still broken