social work

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Professional Practice With Children Families And Carers Social Work Essay

As a result of the 2011 riots seen in the United Kingdom, Louise Casey (2012) was commissioned by the coalition government to write a report entitled ‘Listening to Troubled Families’. This essay will critique the report and consider if government austerity measures could impact in social care provision and outcomes for service users. It will discuss the narrative of one family identified in the report whom require intervention and support in order to safeguard their children (Casey 2012). It will give an outline of the development and impact of legislation and policy guidance on social work practice for children, families and carers. Furthermore it will consider academic research and theories that inform social work practice when working with such families; for instance; ecological theories, assessment, life span models of development, professional power and attachment theory. This essay will also discuss the skills necessary for contemporary social work practitioners to engage effectively with children and families. It will argue that inter-professional, anti-oppressive, multi-professional and reflective practice is paramount to successful outcomes for families who require support from services.

The term ‘troubled families’ was first used by David Cameron (Cameron, 2011), and later defined by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) as households having serious problems and chaotic personal histories. Cameron (2012) intends to ensure those identified in the report as troubled 120,000 families, “turn their lives around”. These families are characterised as; having no adult in employment, children who do not attend school and family members partaking in anti-social behaviour and criminal activities. By reducing costs and improving outcomes, the results based funding scheme aims to change service delivery for families (Cameron, 2011). Welshman (2012), states that this policy agenda is the latest reconstruction of the underclass debate. Giddens (1973, cited in Haralambos and Holborn, 2002) claims that Britain has an underclass of people who are disadvantaged on the labour market because they lack qualifications and skills, and may face discrimination, prejudice and marginalisation in society. The New Labour Government (1997-2010) linked disorderly behaviour to problem families and focussed on individual deficiencies rather than an acknowledgment of structural constraints, for instance; the effects of poverty on family relationships and parenting (Hill and Wright, 2003; Gillies, 2005, in Parr, 2009).

New Labour implemented Family Intervention Projects (FIP) that were framed from the Respect Action Plan in 2006. This was criticized by a parental and family support organisation Parentline Plus (2006), as threats of punishments to parents would impact negatively on families, and parents could be less willing to seek support before they reached crisis (BBC News, 2006). Initiatives like Signpost, provided intensive levels of support and understanding of multidimensional complexities, comprising of effective intervention for children and families within their communities (Dillane et al 2001, cited in Parr, 2009 ). Featherstone (2006) maintains this initiative was within the context of the social investment state, encouraging investment in human capital as opposed to direct economic provision provided by the state in the form of welfare payments. Postle, (2002 cited in Parr, 2009) argues that Signpost intervention was social work at its best allowing social workers time for effective communication and partnership working rather than the policing of families.

Levitas (2012) argued against research methodology used in the Casey Report (2012) and of the idea of multi-disadvantaged families being the source of society’s ills. Levitas (2012) claims; that the figure of 120,000 was founded on data from a secondary analysis of a Children and Families Report (2004). Literature suggests the figure of 120,000 families is underestimated, the number of multi-disadvantaged families is significantly greater (Levitas, 2012; Hern, 2012). The initial 2004 study found no evidence to indicate that the families were trouble makers as proposed but did find that they were families in trouble. As a result of changes in taxation, welfare benefits, spending cuts and the continuing effects of the economic downturn (Levitas, 2012).

Welshman (2012) advocates that history provides important lessons for policymakers and addressing both structural and behavioural causes of poverty is likely to be more effective than counting and defining such families. He believes there is little knowledge regarding reasons for behaviours and calls for research for combating problems that these families encounter. Casey (2012) has given an insight by using service users narratives and received positive responses from interviewees. However, her research does have further limitations; a small sample of sixteen families, all of whom were at crisis point when they accepted working with the FIP (Casey 2012). Soloman (2012) claims that vast number of vulnerable families are being left without any support. Casey (2012) made no reference to ethnicity and culture of the families, therefore giving no insight into diversity (Clifford and Burke, 2009). Bailey (2012) believes that the report breaches ethical standards for social research, the families interviewed are participants in the FIP and therefore had a power of sanction over them, therefore it may have been difficult for the families to decline from the study. No written information on the risks of participation was provided; he also suggests that ethical approval was not applied for. Bailey, (2012) believes that there is a risk of identifying these families. Casey (2012) acknowledged that the information was not representative of 120,000 families but claims that it provides a sound basis for policy. Nevertheless, Bailey (2012) argues that there is no place for unethical research in public policy making.

Comparative studies were not conducted on families with similar economic and social circumstances who are not described as ‘troubled’. Casey (2012) discussed intergenerational cycles of abuse, violence, alcohol and drug misuse as well as worklessness being reasons for ‘troubled families’ placing the oneness on individuals (Levitas, 2012). Kelly (2012) welcomes the Government’s commitment to aid families. He proposes that most parents on low incomes are good parents and believes that it is naive to conflate illness, inadequate housing and poverty with substance misuse and crime. Kelly (2012) also argues that many families involved with Family Action are socially isolated, invisible to support services who struggle on low incomes rather than displaying anti-social behaviours. The case studies gave the parents perspective, however, the voice and opinion of the child was unheard. Ofsted (2010) found practitioners concentrated too much on the needs of the parents and overlooked the implications for the child. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 12 declares, the views of the child must be respected, Article 3 states that the child’s best interests must be a primary concern (Unicef, 1992).

This essay will now discuss social work practice in relation to one of the families identified in Louise Casey’s Report (2012) Chris and Julie (appendix 1). In the past, adults like Chris and Julie who had learning disabilities may have been prevented from becoming parents, eugenic theories dominated, with the aim to ensure children with similar disabilities were not procreated (Cleaver and Nicholson 2007). However, in recent years attitudes are changing in favour of people with learning disabilities giving them the same rights as other citizens regarding sexuality and family life. An increased number of people with learning difficulties now have wider opportunities for independent living. According to Haavik and Menninger (1981 cited in Booth and Booth, 1993, p 203) deinstitutionalization enabled many people with learning disabilities to participate in their community. Duffy (2006, cited in Thompson et al 2008), states that self-determination is a core principle in attaining citizenship in western society.

The shift in opinions and principles is evident in government legislation and guidance thus impacting on social work practice, for instance; Valuing People: a new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century (2001), (DoH 2001) and Valuing People Now: The Delivery Plan (20102011) ‘Making it happen for everyone’ gives guidance for all professionals supporting people with learning disabilities living in the community (DoH 2011). In relation to the case scenario, Article 8 of The Human Rights Act 1998 (.1) provides Chris and Julie with

… ‘a right to respect for private and family life, his home and correspondence’; however, any interference with this right must be necessary and lawful with regard to public safety, national security, prevention of public disorders and crime, or for the protection of rights and freedoms of others’.

Both Julie and Chris have a protected characteristic of disability and therefore under the Equality Act (2010) should be protected from direct and indirect discrimination from service providers. However, children’s rights are paramount and override those of their parents or carers (DoH, 1998). Access to learning disability services in England was governed by Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) (DoH, 2003), until it was superseded by Putting People First (2007) and highlighted the need for a personalised Adult Social Care System (DoH, 2007).

Emerson et al (2005) found one in fifteen adults with learning disabilities living in England were parents and this research emphasised that approximately half of

children born to parents with learning disabilities are at risk from abuse and twenty five per cent no longer lived with their parents (McGaw,2000). Further research indicates that the majority of services are as yet inadequate in meeting the needs of families with learning disabilities (McGaw 2000). McInnis et al (2011) similarly found complexities in determining eligibility for service users. They indicated that decisions regarding eligibility are not only determined by assessment results but by local government resources. They advocate equality and argue that changes in assessment tools are necessary when working with families with learning difficulties. Chris and Julie reflect these findings as they only received intervention when they faced difficulties caring for their children.

The parental skills model would be advantageous for practitioners as it is designed to assist the assessment process when working with Chris and Julie. The model focuses on life skills, familial history and access to support services. McGaw and Sturmey (1994) found that if difficulties arise for parents in any of the three areas it Service users maybe uncooperative and reluctant to engage with services, perhaps due to anxieties and fear of consequences. For example; their children being removed from their care and their own childhood experiences. Cultural awareness and age appropriate interventions are necessary to enable partnership working (Egan, 2007 cited in Martin, 2010). Horwath (2011) found that although some social workers faced barriers to the Child-focused Assessment Framework, due to heavy workloads, time restrictions, performance targets and limited training opportunities. Others found that additional bureaucracy gave them a security in their practice. Smale, et al. (1993) highlighted the following models of assessment; questioning, procedural, and exchange model. The latter may be beneficial when working in partnership with this family as the service users are viewed as experts and aids their potential for working together towards goals.

When working with families communication can be complex; effective communication would include active listening skills, person centred planning and intervention, also avoiding the use of professional ‘jargon’ (Anning et al, 2006). The worker should be aware of non-verbal communication and power imbalances in their working relationship (DoH, DfES, 2007). It may be advisable for this family to access advocacy services to promote equality, social inclusion and social justice (actionforadvocacy.org.uk, 2012). According to Yuill and Gibson (2011), advocacy promotes anti-oppressive practice.

Horwath (2010) suggests positive relationships are built on trust. This echoes the person centred principles of Rogers (1961, cited in Thompson et al, 2008) enabling the practitioner to observe realistic emotional, somatic and behavioural responses from the child and family, that are essential for effective information gathering for assessments (DoH 2006). Martin (2010) argues in order to ensure an understanding of the service user narrative within a multi-professional context the practitioner should reflect and summarise and make accurate recordings. Information should be stored in accordance to the Data Protection Act, 1989 (legislation.gov.uk) and also be shared effectively between multi-agencies and safeguarding departments (Laming, 2003).

Numerous children have died from abuse and neglect in the United Kingdom (Brandon et al, 2005). In 2000, Victoria Climbie was subjected to cruelty by her aunt and her partner which resulted in her loss of life. Laming (2003) describes Victoria’s death as a ‘gross failure of the system and inexcusable’ and recommended reforms (1.18 p.3). In England, the government published the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DoH et al 2000) and additional policy guidance came about in Every Child Matters: Change for Children (2003) that made all professionals accountable for safeguarding, child development, focusing on early intervention, joint sense of responsibility and information sharing with integrated front line services and an emphasis on children fulfilling their potential (dcsf.gov.uk 2012). The following year the Children Act (2004) Section 11 (DfES, 2005) gave clear guidance on multi-agency working and states that safeguarding children is everyone’s business.

The Children Act 1989 (DoH,1989) and the Children Act 2004 (DoH,2004a) currently underpin child welfare practice in England. The former Act considers the concept of a ‘child in need’ (section 17) and accentuates the importance family support services who both promote the child’s welfare and help safeguard and assist parents in their role. In addition Working Together to Safeguard Children (2010) gives extensive guidance on collaborative working and defines roles and responsibilities of professionals (HM. Government 2010). This guidance is presently being revised and reduced to alleviate bureaucracy for professionals, however Mansuri (2012, cited in McGregor 2012) argues that the real safeguarding concerns are unmanageable caseloads, plummeting moral and cuts to support staff and criticises the government for failing to consult more practitioners regarding these changes.

An example for effective working together that may benefit the family in the case scenario is Team around the Family (TAF) intervention. This encourages effective, early identification of additional need, it assesses strengths and is restorative in approach that provides the family opportunities for change and enhances multi-agency collaboration (cheshirewestandchester,2012). Family mentoring services may also be useful in this case (catch-22.2012).

Children’s Services in England and Wales adhere to The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DoH et al 2000). The Assessment Framework provides an ecological approach of the child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity, family and environmental factors. This ecological approach was championed by Bronfenbrenner, (1979, cited Martin, 2010) found that by incorporating the microsystem, exosystem and macrosystem benefited both practitioners and service users by enabling wider societies influences of culture and economic circumstances to be considered in assessment (Wilson et al, 2011). This evidenced- based framework aims to ensure that the child’s welfare is both promoted and protected (Cleaver et al, 2004).

This framework provides a consistent method of collating and analysing information, thus giving practitioners a more coherent understanding of the child’s developmental needs, the capacity of their parents and the influence of the extended family and other environmental factors that impact on the family (DoH al, 2000). However, Garrett (2003; Rose, 2002 in Crisp et al, 2007) believe that the underpinning evidence for the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (2000) is problematic. Howarth (2002 in Crisp et al, 2007) suggests that accompanying specific guidance for children from black and ethnic minorities are less widely circulated than the framework document. Katz (1997, cited in Crisp et al, 2007) accuses the framework as being mechanistic checklists used by inexperienced staff as data collection tools and loosing focus on identifying and meeting the needs of children (Horwath, 2002 cited in Crisp et al 2007).

Likewise, Munro (2011) challenged all professionals to ensure that our child protection system is centred on the child or young person, as she believes the system has lost its focus on the child’s needs and experiences and has been too focused on rules, time-frames in assessment and procedures. At present an initial assessment is carried out ten days from referral and a core assessment must be completed within thirty-five days of an Initial Assessment, and would be undertaken to initiate child protection enquires (DoH et al, 2000). Practitioners use twin tracking and pursue other possibilities for the family (scie-socialcareonline.org.uk). This may be ethically and emotionally difficult for practitioners; they should ensure supervision and adhere to their professional standards of proficiency and ethics (HCPC, 2012).

Munro (2011) urges the government to value professional expertise and revise statutory guidance on service intervention and delivery and calls for more focus on understanding the underlying issues that influenced professional practice that resulted in Serious Case Reviews. Munro (2011) also calls for reforming social work training and placement provision for students. The government accepted Munro’s recommendations and changes to the system will be implemented in 2012 (DfE 2011).

Damien (see appendix 1) meets the threshold criteria for intervention under section17 (10) of The Children Act (1989) as his health or development may be significantly impaired without support services. At present he does not appear to be at risk of significant harm, however a core assessment may be beneficial in determining the appropriate support services (HM Government, 2010), examples include Youth Offending Teams (YOT) who deliver crime prevention programmes (youth-offending-team, 2012), Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCO) and learning mentors provide support in educational settings (Good schools guide,2012). It is vital throughout the assessment process that practitioners are non-judgmental and use reflective practice and have an awareness of transference and counter-transference to disperse any negative responses and feelings (DoH, 2000; Wilson et al, 2008).

The practitioner should draw on theories of human development through the lifespan as well as sociological, biological, psychological and psychosocial theories. For example; biological theory would consider genetic influences, physical development and instinctual behaviours whereas the sociological perspective would emphasise the importance of social factors (Horwath, 2010). It may be that the family are living in poverty and had have not been in receipt of full benefit entitlements or support services; it would be advisable to contact relevant welfare agencies and seek professional assistance for financial support to aid this family (family-action, 2012).

The Children Act (1989) states that for the majority of children their family is the most appropriate place for them to live. However, the local authority has a duty of care and Madison (see appendix 1) needs to be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act (1989), as she is a child in need (section 17) or a child at risk of significant harm (section 47). Chris and Julie have parental responsibility for their children until they are adopted (D of H, 1989; 2000; HM Government, 2010).

When assessing families the practitioner should have an understanding of theories that inform practice. In relation to Erikson’s (1982) theory of psychosocial stages of development, it could be suggested that Madison is in the fifth stage of development known as; Identity and Repudiation versus Identity diffusion. This stage usually will occur between ages 12-18. Throughout adolescence children are becoming more independent and developing a sense of self. Madison could experience confusion in this stage as she has spent time in kinship and residential care. Erikson (1982) believes with encouragement, reinforcement, and through personal exploration adolescents can leave this stage with a strong identity and direction in life. If Madison fails to pass through this stage successfully she will be insecure about herself and her future (Erikson, 1982 cited in Wilson et al 2008). Hamachek (1988) suggests this theory is ambiguous in identifying behaviours of an individual’s psychological growth throughout different stages of development.

Chris and Julie have had one child adopted and have been unable to parent eight of their nine children. During assessment practitioners should have an understanding of attachment categories and relating behaviours; it could be that some of Chris and Julies children developed anxious-ambivalent attachments. Role reversal may have taken place, thus resulting in the children becoming angry about the unreliability of the carer and possibly the reason for them displaying anti-social behaviours Ainsworth (et al., 1978 cited in Becket and Taylor, 2010). Early attachment theory was criticized for denying women equality in the workplace by implying that the risk of mothers leaving their children would be detrimental to their children’s development (Beckett and Taylor, 2010). With regard to Julie and Chris, the local authority could undertake a pre-birth assessment and multi-professional case conference under (section 47) of the Children Act (1989) to evaluate parenting capacity, family and environment, and their ability to sustain parenting to meet the child’s developing and changing needs (Department of Health 1989; Department of Health, 2010).

Specialist assessment tools for parents with learning disabilities would assist the couple in their understanding and partnership planning (McGaw, 2000; cited in Wallbridge, 2012). Both Chris and Julie have completed a parenting course and this is positive as they had not done so previously (Casey 2012). Wallbridge (2012) claims successful support packages offer intensive, continuous training for parenting, for example group work and life skills in the home, both parents feeling valued are often positive catalysts of change. A recent government report (2012) however, identified the child protection system as being reactive rather than proactive with regard to young people accessing services. It warned that professionals gave the parents numerous changes to improve their parenting skills and children were left to live with neglectful parents (publications.parliament.uk, 2012)

This essay has critiqued the report ‘Listening to Troubled Families’ by Louise Casey (2012) and found limitations in the methodology. It considered the needs of a family identified and critiqued the role and skills of a social worker in safeguarding. It has argued the importance of effective multi-professional collaboration, knowledge of contemporary legislation, practice and theories with regard to implementing partnership working to support children, families and carers. It also identified external explanations ; poverty, isolation and late intervention can impact on these families. Munro (2011) urges the government to value professional judgements and change statutory guidance in order to help safeguard children.

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