Children's services at the crossroads
A critical evaluation of contemporary policy for practice
Edited by Patrick Ayre and Michael Preston-Shoot
9781905541645

To see sections of this book in a PDF, please click here.

In response to widespread and persistent concern over the ability of social services to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of the most vulnerable children, UK governments have in recent years introduced some of the most far reaching changes ever encountered in this field.

However, this book argues that - in England especially - despite the best intentions of those driving these changes forward, the approaches to reform have substantially diminished the capability of children's social services to respond effectively to the complex challenges which they face.

In this book, leading authors in the field of social work explore the impact of the reform agenda on key areas of children's services practice, including child safeguarding, youth offending, children in care, family support, ethical practice and child welfare law.

They describe an oppressive, managerialist environment within which:
  • process and procedures are prioritised over outcomes and objectives
  • targets and indicators are prioritised over values and professional standards
  • compliance and completion are prioritised over analysis and reflection.

  • Key themes include:
  • failures of analysis
  • lack of effective engagement with research
  • the proceduralisation, technicalisation and deprofessionalisation of the social work task.

  • Separate sections cover: the policy context; client group issues; and research evidence on services. Chapters include:
  • The understanding systemic caseworker: the (changing) nature and meanings of working with children and families
  • The deprofessionalisation of child protection: regaining our bearings
  • New Labour and youth justice: what works or what's counted
  • Inadmissible evidence? New Labour and the education of children in care
  • Managerialism: at the tipping point?
  • Technology as magic: fetish and folly in the IT-enabled reform of children's services
  • Playing with fire or rediscovering fire? The perils and potential for evidence based practice in child and family social work
  • For my next trick: illusion in children's social policy and practice.

  • This book argues that effective practice requires research-informed, reflective, confident and critically-challenging practitioners supported by management systems which promote rather than undermine their effectiveness.

    Leaning on more positive developments elsewhere in the UK, it challenges ministers and senior managers to commit to the significant change of direction, both practical and conceptual, which is required if children's services are to escape from the vicious spiral of declining performance into which they are currently in danger of descending.

    Paperback. 144 pages. 9781905541645. Published June 2010. £19.95.


    READERSHIP

  • Students, lecturers and practitioners in social work, children's services and child protection; and their libraries.
  • Ministers, managers and those who set policy in social work, children's services and child protection.



  • CONTENTS AND CONTRIBUTORS:

    Children's services: reversing the vicious spiral
    Patrick Ayre, University of Bedfordshire, and Michael Preston-Shoot, University of Bedfordshire

    The policy context

    Children and young people's policy in Wales
    Ian Butler, Bath University, and Mark Drakeford, University of Cardiff

    Safeguarding children: the Scottish perspective
    Brigid Daniel, Stirling University, and Norma Baldwin, Dundee and Warwick Universities

    The understanding systemic caseworker: the (changing) nature and meanings of working with children and families
    Harry Ferguson, University of Nottingham

    Client group issues

    The deprofessionalisation of child protection: regaining our bearings
    Patrick Ayre, University of Bedfordshire, and Martin C. Calder, Durham University

    New Labour and youth justice: what works or what's counted
    John Pitts, University of Bedfordshire, and Tim Bateman, University of Bedfordshire

    Children in need: the challenge of prevention for social work
    Kate Morris, University of Nottingham

    Inadmissible evidence? New Labour and the education of children in care
    Isabelle Brodie, University of Bedfordshire

    Research evidence on services

    Looking after social work practice in its organisational context: neglected and disconcerting questions
    Michael Preston-Shoot, University of Bedfordshire

    Managerialism: at the tipping point?
    Alex Chard, Director of YCTCS Ltd, and Patrick Ayre, University of Bedfordshire

    Technology as magic: fetish and folly in the IT-enabled reform of children's services
    David Wastell, Nottingham University Business School, and Sue White, University of Lancaster

    Playing with fire or rediscovering fire? The perils and potential for evidence-based practice in child and family social work
    Donald Forrester, University of Bedfordshire

    For my next trick: illusion in children's social policy and practice
    Michael Preston-Shoot, University of Bedfordshire, and Patrick Ayre, University of Bedfordshire


    ABOUT THE EDITORS

    Patrick Ayre is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire where he teaches and researches in the fields of social work and child safeguarding. He has worked in child protection and child welfare for over 30 years and was a social worker and manager of child protection services for some 17 years before taking up his present post. In recent years, he has been heavily engaged in the preparation of Serious Case Reviews, and is active as an expert witness in children's services negligence cases.

    Michael Preston-Shoot is Professor of Social Work and Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at the University of Bedfordshire. He has worked as a social worker, groupworker, team leader, family therapist and psychotherapist. He was Editor of Social Work Education: The International Journal between 1993 and 2006 and was Managing Editor of the European Journal of Social Work between 2003 and 2007. He is one of the Founding Editors of the journal Ethics and Social Welfare. He is the Independent Chair of a Local Safeguarding Children Board and of a Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Board.

    REVIEWS

    "This is not the work of academics removed from the reality of practice... this collection offers a timely analysis of the issues facing children's services and the threats and challenges to the practice of social workers. It is clearly set out and includes some practical suggestions to improve support for social workers, make changes to organisational cultures and lead to improvements in the relationships with the individuals and groups who rely on these services." Youth and Policy

    "A challenging and thought-provoking read... The message is that practitioners should be released from current bureaucratic constraints and allowed to work creatively with children... Several contributors describe these aspects as an oppressive environment with procedures taking centre stage rather than the child and family. Information technology systems come under fire and serious deficiencies are identified in England... Ayre and Clader set out the stark dilemmas faced by practitioners and propose actions which could 'reverse the descent'... Maybe policy makers at all levels will take note of the strong message that if managerialsim, performance measures and procedures continue to be given priority, it will diminish the valuing of the direct skilled and sensitive social work required by vulnerable children and families." Rostrum

    "Both a sustained academic critique... and a cri de coeur on behalf of social work. It covers the period in which evidence-based practice has developed in the UK and presents an indictment of how the evidence base has sometimes been selectively used or ignored. Many of the messages are not new - the assault on managerialism, the preoccupation with measuring process rather than quality, the distorting effect of targets, the sad unintended consequences of implementing the Integrated Children's System, the repeated pattern of using child abuse inquiries to denigrate social workers in general, the turbulent organisational contexts in which public child care has to operate, and a fundamental failure to learn from history. What is different here is the attempt to bring those criticisms into a more coordinated form... the arguments that Ayre, Preston-Shoot and their contributors present need addressing. We need less rhetoric, fewer initiatives, more listening, more focus on doing the job well, more respect and support for those on the child-care front line." Research in Practice

    "This book provides a thorough, research-informed critique of Children's Services in England, including an overview of Scottish and Welsh services... The Welsh and Scottish perspectives offer some hopeful indicators of ways forward... A strong case is made for the re-establishment of relationship-based social work, a greater focus on practice and outcomes rather than process and procedures, which will encourage the development of learning environments, and management that is about empowerment and inspiration, rather than chasing targets. There is a wealth of thought-provoking material in this book, underpinned by a detailed historical analysis. It is vital reading for policy makers and senior workers throughout social care. It is also a useful book for senior people of any organisation in thinking about issues related to management culture. It will also useful to students and social workers, in the way it asks important questions about the essence of social work." Well-being


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