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Cocker, C. Allain, L. (2008) Social Work and Looked After Children. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.
(This is number 8 on the list)
The area of looked after children have received considerable attention within the social work and policy discourse over recent years. The book Social Work and Looked After Children by Christine Cocker and Lucille Allain was chosen for this review because it is not just another addition to the discourse, it represents a comprehensive and definitive submission which navigates the system of state care for children from the moment they enter the system until the moments they leave. The area of looked after children is an important aspect of social work, entailing the care of extremely vulnerable young people usually suffering from trauma. Social work students usually approach the area with some level of fear and trepidation and there was a definite absence within the discipline of a comprehensive simple to use guidebook. This book is simple, but not simplistic and addresses the core concepts within the area of looked after children robustly. It addresses complex issues from legislation and policy to minority issues, disability, and theoretical debates deftly. While the book was seemingly created for the student practitioner, comprehensive span, research summary tables, bullet point tips and summaries of key frameworks and policies within each areas makes it a must have for any serious student and social work practitioner committed to working with vulnerable children and young people.
The book starts by outlining the relevant policies that direct work with looked after children. It offers a comprehensive summary of the history and ethics of working with looked after children and the values which underline the policies. In tandem, it presents a statistical trajectory mapping the number of looked after children in the care system in recent years to set the foundation for the discussions within the book. The second chapter is an excellent accompanying foundation chapter which identifies the main legal frameworks guiding work with looked children e.g. The Children’s Act of 1989 and the Every Child Matters policy document of 2003. Central to the thesis in this chapter, was the emphasis that work with looked after children should attempt to remove labels of exclusion and reinforce the entitlements of the child, according to the United Nations Convention’s Rights of the Child document.
The various pathways by which children entered the system was examined and these were considered in relation the existing legal frameworks and how the conditions surrounding their entry into care, should be of vital importance to social workers whose main aim to support the child by understanding the entirety of their cases. The navigation from entry to exit of the care system, highlighted its strengths and weaknesses and in so doing zoomed in on areas where social workers need to be especially alert, for example, in their support and assessments of foster parents and the conditions of residential care homes for vulnerable children. The examination of the child assessment process, presented a chronological and in-depth look at one of the core tools of the social worker. Cocker and Allain focused on the important skills such as observation, reflection and empathy needed by the social worker to deliver best practice meeting the needs of the child and also to build the future client practitioner relationship. The authors emphasized the importance of planning the assessment by studying the child’s files and reflecting on your own judgments regarding the issues emerging before beginning the assessment in order to avoid projecting your own values and stymie the future client relationship or create barriers to getting information which may best support the client.
The book considered the importance of communication skills to the social work practitioner and in work with looked after children. It examined the impact of language on culture, the various types of communication patterns both verbal and non-verbal and highlighted how being able to engage the looked after child to participate in their own recovery through expression was central to successful practice. It also highlighted the need for practitioners to recognize that their language is inclusive and does not make the looked after child feel as if they are being controlled. It implores the practitioner to be aware of the power in language and to ensure that the way they communicate does not impart discriminatory undertones about the looked after child’s vulnerable position.
While the issue of ethnicity and disability is often examined on the fringes of the mainstream work, this book dedicates two rigorous chapters to both areas. The chapter identified the importance of cultural awareness in working with looked after children especially considering the high numbers of minority children in looked after facilities. Cocker and Allain underline the need for practitioners to be vigilant in ensuring their practice is anti-discriminatory and impressively, they also link communication with ethnic minority looked after children as one are which is usually affected by cultural ignorance. They argue that looked after children from ethnic minorities are usually very aware that are sometimes treated differently because of not only being in care but because of their ethnicity and are therefore very attuned to individuals who are culturally ignorant of their needs. They highlight the dangers this can pose to developing trust within the client practitioner relationship and encourage vigilance in this area.
Also considered was how attachment issues must be interrogated within social work assessments and interventions with look after children. The authors acknowledged the debates about using attachment framework with looked after children and acknowledged that while there is a risk of using attachment theory in a deterministic manner with looked after children who are constantly in transition between carers, it can also be useful to build problem solving skills, coping strategies and to build self reliance and resilience.
Also addressed were the mental health needs of looked after children and implored social work practitioners to seek out inter-agency collaboration with other specialist for such children. They also address the importance of education in the lives of looked after children and explore the disjointed and inconsistent educational experiences they usually experience. Social work practitioners are encouraged to support the educational experience of looked after children as this can help to improve their self esteem and outlook. Finally, the book looked at the issue of adoption and permanence and discussed how this process can be emotional and confusing for the looked after child. It provides great advice on how to support both adoption parents and the looked after child through the process of change for example in working with them on how to display empathy and how to communicate with the child.
In conclusion, there was a need for a comprehensive text on looked after children and as is demonstrated in this review, the areas interrogated by Cocker and Allain in this text, provides a first-rate resource with which to study, debate and get guidelines on current issues within the subject.
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