Social control and the use of power in social work with children and families
Edited by Toyin Okitikpi

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The deaths and abuse of young people and children by their parents/carers when they are already known to social services and the police have highlighted the problems that practitioners experience in trying to discharge their duties and take account of the rights and best interest of those concerned.

Social workers across the UK have a range of powers that they can utilise in their day-to-day practice. However they are often reluctant to make use of the full extent of them.

There is a sense that practitioners view their role primarily as supporting children and young people to stay within their familial environment and community. Social workers appear, from the outside at least, to place a higher premium on keeping families together, at all cost, than on taking children and young people into care at the first opportunity.

Is it possible to positively embrace the powers vested in the profession and still maintain all the attributes about working in partnership and building a positive relationship with children/young people and their families?

This publication aims to explore the extent to which social workers' powers are an important element of their practice, and that the use of such powers should not be viewed as being counter to the general approach that has been nurtured and developed by the profession from its inception.

More generally it attempts to encourage trust in the profession and to enable practitioners to regain their confidence about their role, duties and responsibilities.

It unashamedly tackles the issues inherent in the 'rule of optimism' and challenges the assumptions that social work could be practised without exerting control; that the use of power is discriminatory; and that bureaucratisation would minimise risk and provide a more transparent and accountable safeguarding regime for children/young people and their families.

Social Control and the Use of Power in Social Work with Children and Families:
  • Examines the extent of social work powers in working with children and families
  • Explores the changing role of social workers, and child care social work in particular
  • Discusses the crisis of confidence about the role, duties and responsibilities of working within the children and families sector
  • Examines the increasing policy shift towards social control
  • Explores the tensions and contradictions inherent in the helping process
  • Considers the role of social workers in the school environment, where exercising power and control is readily accepted by parents, but how that is done which is crucial
  • Considers whether social workers are not only aware of their powers but also know how they utilise it when working with 'at risk' cases
  • Discusses how the rule of optimism could be redefined and still safeguard vulnerable children and young people
  • Examines the ethics of exercising power in practice
  • Looks at critical reflection and power in social work.

  • Paperback. 160 pages. 9781905541713. Published 2011. £18.95.


    Practitioners, managers, policy makers, lecturers and students at undergraduate and post-qualifying level:
  • Principally in child and family social work
  • But also in other areas of work with children and young people, including: police, probation, youth offending, housing, substance misuse
  • And in other areas of social work and social care, where similar issues arise.
  • Libraries serving these groups.


    Policy shift - towards enforcement in social welfare John Pitts, University of Bedfordshire
    Legal literacy in practice with children and families Michael Preston-Shoot, University of Bedfordshire
    The ethics of exercising power in practice Tom Wilks, London South Bank University
    The death of a child: the unavoidable truth Julia Stroud, University of Brighton
    Reformulating the rule of optimism Toyin Okitikpi, University of Bedfordshire
    Social work and social workers' powers - a lay perspective Sarah Pond, lay panellist, General Medical Council
    The use of power in social work practice Amanda Thorpe, University of Bedfordshire
    Social work in schools Andrew Brown, social worker at a London primary school
    Social workers and the courts Akidi Ochan, barrister and tribunal judge
    Critical reflection and power in social work Jan Fook, University of London


    Toyin Okitikpi
    is a visiting Professor at University of Bedfordshire. Having started in residential care he qualified as a generic social worker and worked in the field for many years. His interests include social work education; anti-discriminatory practice; the importance of education in the lives of children and young people; refugee and asylum-seeking children and their families; social integration and cohesion; working with children of mixed parentage; and interracial/multicultural families and their experiences. He is a lay member on a number of Tribunals including: the General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel; Nursing and Midwifery; Employment Tribunal; the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and the Mental Health Review Tribunal. He has published on a number of social work related areas.


    "This book tackles important issues... looking as it does at social control and power in social work with children and families. Chapters include the shift towards policing and enforcement in social welfare, the legal dimensions of social work with children and families, child deaths and child protection, a reformation of the rule of optimism, notions of power, social work in schools and in court, and critical reflection and power... this is a very good introductory text, one which is well set out, concise and easy to read. It is certainly recommended." Professional Social Work.

    "Chapter two... by Michael Preston-Shoot... provides an analysis of various dualities and tensions within social work such as care verses control, needs versus resources, and professional autonomy versus employer direction... there is much food for thought in not only this chapter but the book as a whole... worthwhile for social workers across the UK and I recommend it." Rostrum.

    "Easy to read, well laid out and balanced in its views and discussions... particularly useful for students, newly qualified social workers and practice teachers... particularly valuable when considering issues of power balances and the use of awareness of self in practice." BASPCAN.