• Adding evidence to the ethics debate: investigating parents' experiences of their participation in research

      Westlake, David; Forrester, Donald (Oxford University Press, 2015-11-19)
      All research requires ethical scrutiny of the harm it may cause participants, yet we know relatively little about the actual experiences of service users who participate. This paper explores the views of parents and carers (n = 97) involved in an English study into outcomes for children known to Children's Services. Nearly all participants (96 per cent) who took part in two research interviews reported being glad they took part, and none expressed regret. Some participants (31 per cent) felt the interviews were difficult or upsetting to some degree, but most of these (90 per cent) also felt that talking to the researcher helped them with their problems. Indeed, parents who reported finding interviews upsetting were more likely to also find them helpful. We suggest that research needs to be considered as a form of intervention, rather than imagined as observing without influencing, and that as such it is necessary to balance both potential advantages and possible risks. Consequently, ethics committees need to focus on study design and the quality of interaction. This requires a focus on supporting researchers to not only ‘do no harm’, but to help people where possible. It also requires evaluation of the impact of research to be built into ethical study design.
    • Australian social work research: an empirical study of engagement and impact

      Tilbury, Clare; Bigby, Christine; Fisher, Mike; Hughes, Mark; Griffith University; La Trobe University; University of Bedfordshire; Southern Cross University (Oxford University Press, 2020-12-03)
      Internationally, non-academic research impact is assessed by governments as part of evaluating the quality of publicly funded research. A case study method was used to investigate the non-academic impact of Australian social work research. Interviews were conducted with 15 leading researchers about outputs (research products, such as publications and reports), engagement (interaction between researchers and end-users outside academia to transfer knowledge, methods, or resources), and impact (social or economic contributions of research). Twelve case studies were prepared using a standardised template. Content analysis highlighted examples of impact, and theoretical and in-vivo coding uncovered processes of engagement and impact. Different types of engagements with research end-users influenced impact in three areas: legislation and policy; practices and service delivery; and quality of life of community members. Engagement and impact were intertwined as research altered policy discourses and illuminated hidden social issues, preparing ground for subsequent, more direct impact. Likewise, academic and non-academic impacts were intertwined as research rigour and academic credibility were perceived to leverage influence. There was no evidence of achieving impact simply through the trickle-down effect of scholarly publication. The findings broaden understandings of how research influences policy and practice and iterative and indirect relationships between engagement and impact.
    • Balancing risk and protective factors: how do social workers and managers analyse referrals that may indicate children are at risk of significant harm?

      Wilkins, David (Oxford University Press, 2013-09-07)
      This paper is based upon the findings of a qualitative study of how child protection social workers and social work managers analyse referrals. The study involved interviews with eighteen participants based on four vignettes of children potentially at risk of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Three themes in particular are discussed—the balancing of risk, protective and resilience factors; the use of family history and the child's wider circumstances; and ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ unknowns (‘missing information’). These findings are considered in relation to the potential use of actuarial risk assessment tools or Structured Decisions Making tools in child protection social work. The first of two conclusions is that when given adequate space and time the participants tended to be to be reflective and analytical, but that difficulties remained in their ability to analyse the referrals, in particular with the identification of protective or resilience factors and in the balancing of risk and protective or resilience factors in relation to individual children. The second conclusion is that social workers and managers may benefit from assistance in identifying protective and resilience factors (and distinguishing between protective factors and resilience factors) in particular and this may offer a focus for the introduction of structured tools as a way to support current practice rather than to replace it.
    • Breaking down language barriers: a practice-near study of social work using interpreters

      Westlake, David; Jones, Rebecca (Oxford University Press, 2017-08-16)
      This paper explores how social workers can communicate effectively using an interpreter. It examines how child and family practitioners describe their experiences of working with interpreters and uses audio recordings of home visits to analyse how the challenges they describe manifest in practice. The analysis is based on audio recordings of nineteen interpreter-mediated meetings between workers and families, and two focus groups with practitioners. Recordings were categorised using quantitative coding, and data were analysed thematically. Although workers find using an interpreter challenging, in practice, skilled practitioners are able to work effectively providing they adopt an assertive approach. This is characterised by clarifying misunderstandings, involving the client in ‘chit-chat’ to build rapport and, where clients have differing levels of language proficiency, conducting the conversation entirely in the native language. The study demonstrates the centrality of social worker skills in managing interpreter-mediated sessions and improving practice for non-native-speaking families. This has implications for social work practice internationally.
    • Child protection with Muslim communities: considerations for non-Muslim-based orthodoxies/paradigms in child welfare and social work

      O’Leary, Patrick; Abdalla, Mohamad; Hutchinson, Aisha; Squire, Jason; Young, Amy; Griffith University; University of South Australia; University of Bedfordshire; King’s College London; University of Johannesburg; et al. (Oxford University Press, 2019-07-20)
      The care and protection of children are a concern that crosses ethnic, religious and national boundaries. How communities act on these concerns are informed by cultural and religious understandings of childhood and protection. Islam has specific teachings that relate to the care and guardianship of children and are interpreted in diverse ways across the Muslim world. Islamic teachings on child-care mostly overlap with Western understandings of child protection, but there can be some contested positions. This creates complexities for social workers intervening in Muslim communities where the basis of their intervention is primarily informed by a non-Muslim paradigm or occurs in secular legal contexts. The purpose of this article is to address at a broad level the issue of how overarching concepts of child protection and Islam influence social work practice with Muslim communities. It addresses a gap in practical applications of the synergy of  Islamic thinking with core social work practice in the field of child protection. For effective practice, it is argued that social work practitioners need to consider common ground in Islamic thinking on child protection rather than rely on Western frameworks. This requires further research to build evidence-based practice with Muslim families.
    • Combatting child sexual exploitation with young people and parents: contributions to a twenty-first century family support agenda

      Thomas, Roma; D'Arcy, Kate (Oxford University Press, 2017-10-14)
      This article discusses family work with young people, parents and carers affected by child sexual exploitation (CSE). It seeks to address a key gap in child protection responses to CSE, namely family support which addresses the needs both of young people and of parents and carers. The paper presents learning from the evaluation of an early-intervention project with young people at risk of or affected by CSE and their families (D’Arcy et al., 2015). It links this empirical evidence to existing research and recent debates in the social work literature about what constitutes effective practice with families and young people. While acknowledging the need for CSE specialist services, it argues that separation between mainstream social work and CSE prevention work with families and young people is not always helpful. The research presented, based on interviews, roundtable discussions and a literature review, highlights the ways of working needed in this field. By connecting family support, work with young people and CSE prevention, we seek to contribute to a broader agenda for social work. This agenda calls for a twenty-first-century reconfiguration of social work using holistic family support practices that work with families’ strengths and apply a participatory approach, providing services which emphasise ‘relationships’ and ‘support’.
    • A comparative study of Australian social work research

      Tilbury, Clare; Hughes, Mark; Bigby, Christine; Fisher, Mike; Vogel, Lauren (Oxford University Press, 2017-02-15)
      The quality and quantity of social work research is not simply a matter of academic inquiry, it has real-world implications for practitioners, policy makers, and the community. Internationally, research assessment exercises being undertaken in university sectors are shaping notions of research productivity, quality, and impact. This paper advances empirical understandings of the nature of social work research in Australia, through an interdisciplinary and cross-national comparative analysis of performance data reported in the research assessment exercises Excellence in Research for Australia 2012 and 2015, and the UK’s Research Excellence Framework 2014. It found that compared to other social science disciplines, social work in Australia is a mid-level performer in terms of quantity and above-average in terms of quality, but when compared to social work and social policy research in the UK, quality is rated less highly. It argues for more transparent criteria to assess quality within peer-review research assessments and careful consideration of ways to document and evaluate research impact that are relevant to the discipline, capable of capturing the many and varied ways that research can influence policy and practice over time.
    • Doing child-protection social work with parents: what are the barriers in practice?

      Wilkins, David; Whittaker, Charlotte E.; University of Bedfordshire; Frontline (Oxford University Press, 2017-12-28)
      For many social workers, participatory practice may seem an unachievable goal, particularly in the field of child protection. In this paper, we discuss a significant programme of change in one London local authority, as part of which we undertook 110 observations of practice and provided more than eighty follow-up coaching sessions for workers. Through these observations, we saw many examples of key participatory practice skills such as empathy, collaboration and involvement in decision making. We also saw many examples of reducing autonomy and excluding parents from decision making. Often, we found the same worker would adopt a participatory approach with one family and a non-participatory approach with another. Through coaching sessions, we explored how and why workers used different approaches and discussed the barriers to adopting a more consistently participatory approach. These discussions led us to reflect on fundamental questions relating to the purpose of child-protection social work, how social workers can best help families and what the limits might be of participation in situations of high risk. We argue that truly participatory child-protection social work requires not simply better training or different tools, but an innovation in the value base of children’s services.
    • Last resort or best interest? exploring risk and safety factors that inform rates of relocation for young people abused in extra-familial settings

      Firmin, Carlene Emma; Wroe, Lauren; Bernard, D.; (Oxford University Press, 2021-05-06)
      When young people are harmed in extra-familial settings children’s services may place them into care at a distance from their home authority to remove them from contexts in which they are considered ‘at risk’. Guidance and regulation suggest such intervention be used as a last resort and only in a child’s best interests. Using survey and interview data, this paper examines how relocations are used in response to extra-familial harm in 13 children’s services departments in England and Wales – exploring the extent to which they are intended to mitigate risk, or build safety, for young people. Findings demonstrate that rates at which relocations were used varied across participating services. Interview data suggests that variation may be informed by the strategic position a service takes on the use of relocation, the goal(s) of interventions used in cases of extra-familial harm, and the target of these interventions. In considering each of these factors the authors recommend further study into the national (varying) rates of relocation and the role of those who review care-plans for relocated young people; both intending to create conditions in which young people can safely return to their communities should they choose to do so
    • Making Safeguarding Personal and social work practice with older adults: findings from local-authority survey data in England

      Cooper, Adi; Cocker, Christine; Briggs, Mike (Oxford University Press, 2018-07-25)
      This article presents the results of a survey of English local authorities undertaken in 2016 about the implementation of Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP) in adult social care services. MSP is an approach to adult safeguarding practice that prioritises the needs and outcomes identified by the person being supported. The key findings from a survey of local authorities are described, emphasising issues for safeguarding older adults, who are the largest group of people who experience adult safeguarding enquiries. The survey showed that social workers are enthusiastic about MSP and suggests that this approach results in a more efficient use of resources. However, implementation and culture change are affected by different factors, including: austerity; local authority systems and structures; the support of leaders, managers and partners in implementing MSP; service capacity; and input to develop skills and knowledge in local authorities and partner organisations. There are specific challenges for social workers in using MSP with older adults, particularly regarding mental capacity issues for service users, communication skills with older people, family and carers, and the need to combat ageism in service delivery. Organisational blocks affecting local authorities developing this 'risk enabling' approach to adult safeguarding are discussed.
    • Ofsted and children’s services: what performance indicators and other factors are associated with better inspection results?

      Wilkins, David; Antonopoulou, Vivi; University of Bedfordshire; Cardiff University (Oxford University Press, 2018-11-26)
      ‘Failing’ an Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspection has severe consequences for a local authority. Senior managers may lose their jobs and the workforce as a whole can be destabilised. In extreme cases, central government can decide the authority is no longer capable of running children’s services. On the other hand, receiving positive Ofsted judgements often brings with it a national reputation for excellence. This study reports the findings of an analysis of key performance indicators, expenditure and deprivation in relation to Ofsted inspections for eighty-seven local authorities in England undertaken between 2014 and 2016. Our aim was to examine the association between these factors and Ofsted judgements. Our findings suggest that, for most of the factors we considered, there is no clear pattern of better or worse performance between local authorities with different Ofsted ratings. However, ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ authorities tend to outperform other authorities in relation to some procedural variables. By itself, the level of local-authority deprivation was most clearly associated with the Ofsted rating and expenditure was associated with the authority’s deprivation level, but not their Ofsted judgement. Comparisons are made with the Department of Education’s concept of ‘value-added’ education in relation to schools.
    • Research end-user perspectives about using social work research in policy and practice

      Tilbury, Clare; Hughes, Mark; Bigby, Christine; Fisher, Mike; Griffith University; Southern Cross University; La Trobe University; University of Bedfordshire (Oxford Journals, 2021-02-14)
      Research funding and assessment initiatives that foster engagement between researchers and research end-users have been adopted by governments in many countries. They aim to orient research towards achieving measurable impacts that improve economic and social well-being beyond academia. This has long been regarded as important in social work research, as it has in many fields of applied research. This study examined research engagement and impact from the perspective of research end-users working in human services. In-person or telephone interviews were conducted with 43 research end-users about how they used research and interacted with researchers. Content analysis was undertaken to identify engagement strategies and thematic coding was employed to examine underpinning ideas about research translation into practice. Participants were involved in many types of formal and informal research engagements. They viewed research translation as a mutual responsibility but indicated that researchers should do more to improve the utility of their research for industry. The findings highlight the iterative nature of engagement and impact and raise questions about the infrastructure for scaling up impact beyond relationships between individual researchers and their industry partners.
    • Research evidence to inform strengths-based policy and practice: mapping the coping strategies of young women in Mozambique

      Hutchinson, Aisha (Oxford University Press, 2018-03-23)
      Unintended pregnancy amongst young women in Mozambique is associated with many ‘problems’ and ‘poor outcomes’; yet little is known about how young women, their family and communities actually respond to these problems. Qualitative research on the coping strategies used by young mothers under 20 years of age in response to conflictual relationships, poor material provision, poor health and poor educational access in Mozambique is presented. Data was constructed through 21 semi-structured narrative interviews with young mothers (16-19 years old) from two regions (urban/south and rural/north) on their experience of coping with unintended pregnancy. Thematic data analysis to identify coping strategies was completed using Nvivo 7. The majority of strategies identified were ‘relational’ in nature highlighting the importance of developing interventions which strengthen naturally occurring strategies used by women, their families and communities. The findings are used to illustrate the role of strength-based research in developing policy and practice, particularly in relation to community development and groups considered unable to ‘cope’ or ‘get on’. It is also important to ensure strengths-based approaches are used to tackle structural inequalities and strengthen organisational resources, despite this being a strong critique levied at strength-based interventions.
    • Sexual exploitation and its impact on developing sexualities and sexual relationships: the need for contextual social work interventions

      Firmin, Carlene Emma; Warrington, Camille; Pearce, Jenny J.; University of Bedfordshire (Oxford University Press, 2016-10-25)
      This article considers how young people’s developing sexualities are influenced by extra-familial social and cultural contexts, particularly in relation to experiences of sexual violence. It draws upon young people’s voices to illustrate the choices they make when they encounter, or engage with, exploitative contexts. Utilising the cumulative evidence base of our studies into sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence over the past ten years, we employ Bourdieu’s theory of the interplay between structure and agency to elucidate the relationship between young people’s choices and abusive social environments. When navigating or engaging with exploitative contexts, young people’s sexualities can be distorted through abusive normalising processes; coercive practices; professional attitudes which condone abuse; and/or structural inequalities that call for survivalist behaviours amongst young people. In exploring this social model of consent, we highlight the need to move beyond one to one (1:1) social work practices to engage with situations, contexts and relationships that disrupt young people’s developing sexualities. Such an adaptation of social work practice would adopt principles of ‘contextual safeguarding’ and we conclude by offering illustrations of interventions that have begun to explore this developmental pathway.
    • A study on senior managers’ views of participation in one local authority a case of wilful blindness?

      Diaz, Clive; Aylward, Tricia (Oxford University Press, 2019-11-16)
      Children in care are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and senior managers should be committed towards improving their well-being. Empowerment through participation can contribute to this. This study considered the extent to which young people in care were encouraged to participate in decision making, particularly in their review meetings. The paper explores the views of seven senior managers in one local authority in this regard. It formed part of a wider study in which social workers, independent reviewing officers and young people in care were also interviewed. Findings indicate a disconnect between senior managers’ views and other participants. Senior managers were unaware of the challenges that the social workers and independent reviewing officers said they faced. Their understanding of meaningful participation appeared to be limited, their curiosity subdued and their willingness to challenge limited. Senior managers informed that care plans were not up-to-date or considered at the review and were unsure about what opportunities children had to participate and how management could support this. Senior managers reflected that little seemed to have changed in relation to children’s participation in their reviews over the last twenty-five years.
    • What is the relationship between worker skills and outcomes for families in child and family social work?

      Forrester, Donald; Westlake, David; Killian, Mike; Antonopoulou, Vivi; McCann, Michelle; Thurnham, Angela; Thomas, Roma; Waits, Charlotte; Whittaker, Charlotte E.; Hutchison, Douglas (Oxford University Press (OUP), 2019-01-28)
      Communication skills are fundamental to social work, yet few studies have directly evaluated their impact. In this study, we explore the relationship between skills and outcomes in 127 families. An observation of practice was undertaken on the second or third meeting with a family. Practice quality was evaluated in relation to seven skills, which were grouped into three dimensions: relationship building, good authority and evocation of intrinsic motivation. Outcomes at approximately six months were parent-reported engagement (Working Alliance Inventory), Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS), an eleven-point family life satisfaction rating, the Family Environment Scale and General Health Questionnaire and service outcomes from agency records including children entering care. Relationship-building skills predicted parent-reported engagement, although good authority and evocation had stronger relationships with outcome measures. Where workers visited families more often, relationships between skills and outcomes were stronger, in part because workers had more involvement and in part because these families were more likely to have significant problems. The relationship between skills and outcomes was complicated, although the findings provide encouraging evidence that key social work skills have an influence on outcomes for families.