Reconnecting social work, families and communities

26 May 2015

Brigid FeatherstoneBrigid Featherstone, Professor in Social Work at the Open University, and speaker at our upcoming Leaders’ Forum: Changing the conversation – building community resilience and social capital, discusses community capacity to help strengthen social work impact, bringing together evidence and research from the UK child protection system and studies from the US.

For a long time I have been interested in reforming the child protection system, considering how we can move from a system in which families are ‘done to’ by experts, to a system where we ‘work with’ families to build on their strengths. My work with the Open University has focused on understanding how families experience child protection services and how we can use this to improve our ways of working.

In ‘Reimagining Child Protection: Towards Humane Social Work with Families’, which I wrote collaboratively with my colleagues Sue White and Kate Morris, we argue that our current approach could be improved, for children, for families and for communities. Current findings indicate that families feel that their lived experience isn’t taken into account as part of the process, and engagement with services can be erratic or inconsistent. Social workers are often seen as coming from outside and interfering, rather than an ongoing source of support and strength.

In our work with families, we must not only think of family, but think of community. Community values and expectations and physical and social resources have an impact on parenting that is not acknowledged or addressed within our current way of working.

Families living in poverty and in areas of multiple deprivation do not just lack physical and financial resources, but can also lack social capital, the personal relationships and connections that offer informal support and guidance and which families can draw in times of crises. By ignoring this community context, we risk blaming and stigmatising parents who are living in stressful circumstances which make it difficult to make changes that we demand of them.

So I am extremely pleased that this year’s research in practice and research in practice for adults Leaders’ Forum is focused on the issue of building community resilience, assets and of increasing social capital.  I believe that reconnecting our social work practice with the communities we serve and re-positioning that practice to develop capacity within those communities offers an opportunity to return to some of the core values of social work.

My contribution to the Leaders’ Forum will explore research from the United States that evaluates the impact of a community development project on parenting and on child safety. The project successfully mobilised thousands of volunteers and members of community organisations to work to improve the wellbeing of all children within the community, tackling parental stress and reports of child neglect.  

I think that there are lessons that can be learned from this project for leaders of services for both children and adults. I look forward to the stimulating discussion that I am sure will follow my presentation about what we can gain from this research and what challenges there may be. Tweet your thoughts on the day via #LF2015.

Find out more at our Leaders’ Forum
Directors, Assistant Directors and Strategic Leads can find out more about Brigid Featherstone’s work at her presentation ‘lessons from the US: Social research into risk and resilience’ at our Leaders’ Forum 5 June 2015.

Bringing together senior leaders from across adults’, children’s and people sectors, our Leaders’ Forum is one of the main events of the year. This joint RiP/RiPfA event is a unique opportunity to share challenges and solutions with colleagues from across the sector, and hear up-to-date research on topics of relevance.

This year’s forum will focus on innovative ways of strengthening communities and building social capital. The programme includes sector-specific breakout sessions as well as joint sessions for leaders of adults’, children’s and people sectors. It will enable delegates to explore the issues and challenges, and increase their understanding of the key benefits of engaging with communities to co-design public services.

Get in touch with our events team via events@rip.org.uk to find out more.

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