Constructions of the child in care: generating alternative figurations of children and childhood in care that may be useful for multi-agency network practices
Subjectschild in care
Subject Categories::L590 Social Work not elsewhere classified
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AbstractThis thesis is about how the child in care in England is constructed in professional language and practice in use across the care system, a system which has been historically and, in the view of the thesis, remains dominated by modernist social theory, epistemology, and ontology. This modernist dominance remains largely invisible to those working within the system and those children and families involved in the system. This invisibility sustains a lack of critical awareness of the consequences of these modernist theoretical assumptions in the lives of children and families and on professional practice. The thesis proposes that opening up the system’s assumptions to greater critical debate will generate more finely attuned care practices, broaden the knowledge base available (creating an ecology of knowledges rather than a hierarchy), and create significant opportunities for mobilising collaborative practice between network members. As the study views it collaborative practice is inhibited by the system’s current adherence to modernist theory. The study proposes that the key site for this opening up is the interprofessional network of social workers, teachers, foster carers, and Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) clinicians (and others) around the child in care, which can be repurposed as a collaborative, critical, inter-personal, interprofessional networks. The study sees this as in line with the NHS/NICE recommendation that a consultancy service should be available to all teams of professionals around the child in care based upon the concept of reflective practice, which supports network members to manage differing and at times conflicting views about the best interests and needs of looked-after children. The study responds to three inter-related questions which are concerned with how children in care currently constructed, which alternative constructions emerge by diffracting modernist and postmodern theory through each other, and finally which novel ethical, theoretical, and practical perspectives arise in these processes which can be useful to interprofessional network members in creating collaborative interprofessional practices? The study research methods include radical reading and looking; noticing professional language; making mind maps, noticing and sensing of invisible presences (such as modernist assumptions about the child); diffracting modernist theoretical perspectives (such as, developmentalism, child-centred practice, individualism, diagnosis) and postmodern perspectives (such as, child as unbounded mangle, child and adult as fellow travellers) inspired by systemic, postcolonial, and critical feminist materialist posthuman social theory through each other; the child as a construction, and finally practical tools, which together unsettle taken-for-granted ways of seeing and thinking and practicing. Through these research methods the study offers five essays. The first essay illustrates the dominance of particular modernist ideas within the care system - developmentalism, child-centred practice, contemporary professional constructions of neglect and abuse, the persuasive (pervasive) use of neuroscientific-inspired ideas, particular thought styles, and constructions of diagnostic categories such as conduct disorders - assemble to construct children in care. The second essay identifies colonial assemblages of thought, epistemology, and ontology which act as invisible pillars upon which the everyday practices of the care system stand. Bringing these colonial assemblages to the collective awareness of those who work in the system the essay seeks to support more critical public debate, a more searching dialogue about what these ways of constructing social life may ‘do’ in the lives of children in care. Part I of the third essay explores dogmatic (modernist, positivist) practices in the care system, which means those elements of thought and practice which have a longstanding reliance on positivism and the empirical analytic mode which continues to influence much theory and practice in social work, education, and clinical work in children’s mental health. Dogmatic thinking-practices tend to assert that the system’s already established knowledge is undeniably true knowledge, made up of true commonsense facts about the world. Part II illustrates that the child may be thought, through postmodern theories, differently from those allowed by the narrow dogmatic vision of the child. Indeed, the child may take on many novel and lively forms inviting many novel and lively alternative forms of care. In these circumstances the dogmatic vision of the child can no longer hold as the one true child. Professionals and child are released from their dogmatic constructions of self, other, and care and enabled to construct abundant forms of care; a thousand tiny forms of care; from ‘the’ care to ‘this’ care. Essay four offers a series of theoretical and philosophical tools which when utilised in the practices of interprofessional networks have (i) the effect of making the modernist assumptions which undergird the system increasingly visible to network members, which leads to (ii) increased reflection upon and critique of modernist approaches, and (iii) this reflection and critique illustrates the ethical, relational, and affective limitations of modernist care practices. These postmodern philosophical tools (which include the Anthropocene and plantation ecologies) over time increasingly illuminate to network members that the child is not (only) the modernist child they are (usually) constructed to be(come) by the current dogmatic arrangements and that they can be reimagined (through postmodern concepts) as potentially taking many novel and lively forms. The child reimagined requires reimagined forms of care. Adding postmodern perspectives of child and care to established dogmatic visions of the child and their care breaks the dependence of the care system on its modernist shackles. Interprofessional network members freed from their reliance on the dogmatic vision of the child to stabilise their practices of care must learn to collaborate and debate with each other to uniquely construct the child and their practices of care. Out of this debate emerges an expansion of thinking, a collaborative and critical approach to interprofessional networking. The fifth essay identifies and illustrates an assemblage of practical tools which may be used to mobilise collaborative practices in interprofessional networks, which include - engaging in radical reading; noticing shift climates; questions; radical writing; working with parts of interprofessional networks; understanding problems as made within complex intra-acting systems; thinking about bodies as assemblage, and soil – as practical ways of coming to ‘see’ the child through different epistemological and ontological perspectives. The study has identified the interprofessional network as the key site within which a paradigm shift toward more collaborative, inter-personal, affective, thinking-practicing can occur and which can contribute to changing the currently modernist-dominated system from within. This study proposes that network members come to see themselves as agents of social change at the macro level of their own and their institutions epistemology and ontology rather than merely agents of change for others at the micro level of children and families. This focus on making the invisible presences of modernist social theory which underpin current practice more visible to oneself and other professionals both requires and generates an increasing openness to expansive learning which entails professionals openly articulating their differences and exploring alternative ethical possibilities. The study proposes that this expansion makes for more abundant possibilities for caring and more ethically attuned care.
CitationMills, S. (2020) 'Constructions of the child in care: generating alternative figurations of children and childhood in care that may be useful for multi-agency network practices'. University of Bedfordshire. Professional Doctorate thesis.
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted to the University of Bedfordshire, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of: Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice, University of Bedfordshire, Institute of Applied Social Research
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