By: S. Bekaert, E. Paavilainen, H. Scheke, A. Baldacchino, E. Jouet, L. Zablocka-Zytka, B. Bachi, F. Bartoli, G. Carra, RM. Cioni, C. Crocamo, JV. Appleton

Children and Youth Services Review (2021) 

Review written by: Dr Nina Maxwell

What question does this study focus on? 

This paper presents findings from a review of studies that have explored the perspectives of different family members in relation to their experiences of child protection involvement. Specifically, the paper focuses on family member views of the social worker, their relationship with the social worker and how they think the social worker views them. In doing so, the paper considers the complex task of child protection social work, in which practitioners must work in partnership with families, while also protecting children from serious harm. 

How did they study it?

The study began with a systematic literature review to find studies undertaken between 1999 and 2020. The study adopted broad search criteria, and identified a total of 45 peer-reviewed articles. Each article was reviewed using the critical appraisal skills programme tool for qualitative studies. Following this review, 10 articles were excluded. A meta-synthesis, where findings are reviewed and integrated, was undertaken on the remaining 35 studies. 

What did they find?

The study found that family members often experienced a lack of power in relation to child protection services. Workers tended to have preconceived ideas about different situations, such as those involving domestic violence or substance misuse, and different expectations of mothers and fathers in relation to childcare. Workers also expected older children to exercise much greater autonomy than younger children. The authors highlight the need for a more collaborative approach between workers and families, in order to keep children safe. This requires a balance between worker accountability and responsibility and the adoption of an optimistic approach to encourage change. 

What are the implications? 

The study emphasises the need for social workers to build respectful, trusting relationships with families through honest and transparent communication. This includes supporting all family members to navigate the child protection system, for example with written resources that are age appropriate for children. Workers need to be supported in critical reflection regarding the power imbalance between them and the family, and the impact this has on their relationships. The authors recommend that workers need Continuous Professional Development activities to help guard against preconceived expectations and the adoption of deficit models of assessment and intervention. Finally, the study emphasises the need for systemic change to mitigate against staff turnover such as formalising case handovers and having clear timescales.  

Review written by

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Dr Nina Maxwell