Social workers' communication with children and young people in practice | Iriss
practice and the challenges of working in a strengths-based way. how social workers can enable the people they work with to identify their personal assets principally with the quality of the relationship that develops between those .. home. • Don't leave services out altogether, withdrawal or loss of. In our view, relationship underpins social work practice in all its These reflective observations on the challenges facing relationship-based practice, carrying out observations can be seen to be a prototype for home visits. Boundary Challenges Outside of the Office — Home-Based Services Social workers receive extensive training on the subjects of boundaries and dual relationships. A principal advantage of home-based services is that social workers have the of course, home-based services are convenient for clients who then do not.
Classen also considered the problem of expired foster care orders. He instructed that those which have expired since 1 April should automatically be "deemed not to have expired and are hereby extended for a period of 2 two years from the date of this order" Centre for Child Law v Minister of Social Development and others, a. With orders that expired even earlier, he directed that any foster care order that expired within two years before 1 April was automatically revived and extended in the same way as those expiring after 1 April In another order, Classen added that, where a social worker operating in terms of the old administrative process decided that a placement should not be extended "for the full two year period However, this temporary solution was meant only for lapsed foster-care orders and does not address the challenge of lapsed orders for children in child and youth care centres.
As mentioned earlier, the Children's Act 38 of is developmental in nature due to its emphasis on early intervention and other proactive services. Nevertheless, dilemmas faced by social workers on whether or when to remove children is a practical reality. Misjudgement and prejudicial decisions on the matter are likely to be traumatic for children and their families.
Prior to removing a child, the Children's Act 38 of requires a preliminary hearing.
Section of the Children's Act 38 of covers such removals with prior court approvals, whilst Section provides for emergencies where there are time constraints in getting a prior court authorisation. These sections came under the spotlight in the High Court case of Chirindza and others v Gauteng Department of Social Development and others. This was after some social workers in the services of the Pretoria East Department of Social Development, escorted by the police, municipal officials and media personnel, used section to forcefully remove children from men and women who were using children to gain sympathy when begging on the streets Chirindza and others v Gauteng Department of Social Development and others, After neither being denied access to their children nor being told where they were, two of those adults, through the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, subsequently challenged the process in the High Court Chirindza and others v Gauteng Department of Social Development and others, In his judgment Fabricius found the Children's Act 38 of to be deficient in failing to provide adequate post-removal procedures where children have been removed and placed in temporary safe care placements Chirindza and others v Gauteng Department of Social Development and others, It should have required that the Children's Act 38 of provided for an immediate review hearing by the children's court.
The purpose of such an appearance would be to determine whether the removal was in the child's best interests. It is because of this shortcoming that the High Court judge, Fabricius found and declared the Children's Act 38 of to be unconstitutional. He ordered that additional wording requiring reviews be inserted.
Unfortunately, the said judge did not provide guidelines on what social workers will need to prove at the reviews. Nor did he indicate factors to be considered by presiding officers at reviews. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Children's Act 38 of on temporary safe care, problems of immense proportions have resulted from the wording of section 1 a. This section is one of the grounds for finding that a child is in need of care and protection. Section 1 a of the Children's Act 38 of states that "A child is in need of care and protection if, the child has been abandoned or orphaned and is without any visible means of support".
From practice experience, this section has proved problematic when a social worker tries to open and finalise a children's court enquiry for a child in foster care whose order has lapsed. The same is true for an abandoned or orphaned child requiring foster care who has been staying with alternative parents on a private arrangement and now needs state assistance because of a small source of income that is sufficient only for themselves but not for an additional person the child concerned.
Such care givers are usually relatives receiving some form of state assistance for example, disability grant, older persons grant, and child support grant.
Besides section 1 athere is usually no other ground for finding such children "in need of care and protection. Such children can only be eligible for a foster care grant if the children's court issues a court order placing them in foster care be it with a relative or a non-relative.
Lastly, the Children's Act 38 of does not address the plight of children who are in need of cash and not much in need of care. According to Loffella simple introduction of a "kinship care grant" can ameliorate this terrible predicament. However, this review has not yet materialised. The present qualitative study was conducted within the context of the shortcomings of the Children's Act 38 of in order to explore the challenges that social workers face in the field of child protection.3 Rules to Follow for First Time Visits with Social Workers
Data were gathered through three focus group discussions which each comprised of six social workers and was guided by a semi-structured interview schedule Neuman, Three meetings of 60 minutes each were initially scheduled with each focus group. However, data became saturated during the second meetings, and hence the third meetings were cancelled.
Data analysis was done in accordance with Creswell's thematic model. The study has been ethically cleared by the University of Pretoria and permission was granted by Johannesburg Child Welfare to approach social workers for the study.
Participation was voluntary and social workers gave their informed consent to participate in the study. This included agreeing to confidentiality.
No data presented in the findings can be attached to any specific participant and hence anonymity was upheld.
Data credibility and trustworthiness were enhanced through prolonged and repeated focus group sessions until data saturation occurred Creswell, Respondent validation was the most critical technique for establishing credibility. This entailed interpreting the information and then checking with the participants if the interpretation and thematic analysis were consistent, correct and congruent with their experiences Greeff, The following section will discuss the challenges in implementing the Children's Act 38 ofusing themes and sub-themes which emerged from the research data.
Nine were male and nine were female. Twelve participants were between the ages of 25 to 30; three were between the ages of 31 to 35; two were between the ages of 36 to 40; one participant was above the age of Of the 18 participants, 17 were black and one was coloured.
Of the 18 participants, two had five years of social work experience in child protection services; seven had three years experience; four had four years of experience; one each had seven years, six years, one year and one and a half years of experience. Most of the participants had between one and three years of experience at Johannesburg Child Welfare.
The secret life of a social worker: you just have to get used to letting people down
Of the 18 participants, seven had been implementing the Children's Act 38 of for three years; five had been implementing it for two years; two had been doing so for two and a half years; and four had been implementing the Children's Act for one to one and a half years.
Contextualisation of child protection within the Children's Act 38 of from a developmental perspective Participants' responses in contextualising child protection within the Children's Act 38 of from a developmental perspective varied significantly. Some participants could not specifically define what a developmental approach to social work is. However, a few participants were very elaborate in their contextualisation of child protection within the Children's Act from a developmental perspective: So the developmental perspective stresses that children should be retained within their families, within the immediate family, within the extended family and if not possible, within their communities; it talks about doing preventative work, raising awareness within communities to protect children.
Institutional challenges in the implementation of the Children's Act 38 of The participants revealed that the institutional challenges in the implementation of the Children's Act stem from the problems that social workers encounter with presiding officers.
These problems include the lack of uniformity in terms of handling Children's Court matters among presiding officers; the attitude of presiding officers; unrealistic expectations from presiding officers; varying expertise of presiding officers and the insufficient number of presiding officers.
Institutional challenges in implementing the Children's Act 38 of also stem from the attitude of social workers and from the fact that social workers have to work with untrained and uncooperative police officers.
These obstacles will be discussed next as sub-themes. Lack of uniformity among presiding officers The majority of the participants stated that most presiding officers do not have a standardised way of doing things.
Even though there are regulations in place, the regulations are not very clear. Hence presiding officers are ambiguous, which is exacerbated by the Children's Act 38 of stating that the presiding officers must use their discretion in dealing with cases. This causes a huge challenge in that presiding officers in one magisterial court interpret the Act differently from those in another district.
However, it is not only the lack of uniformity in one magisterial court that is a concern. Participants also stated that they work with presiding officers in different magisterial districts who have completely different ways of handling and approaching matters.
This therefore frustrates social workers in that they always have to be conscious of which court they are going to and what the specific procedures of that particular court entail. The challenges, views and experiences of participants on the lack of uniformity of presiding officers are reflected in the following comments: They stated that the Children's Court matters are often presided over by magistrates who are borrowed from other courts and then often rotated, resulting in some of them not being well versed in the provisions of the Children's Act 38 of The participants further stated that presiding officers read the Act during the court hearing sessions; at times they quickly run to a presiding officer next door to ask for clarity on how certain issues are handled and even ask the social worker on what they should do.
The challenges for social workers regarding presiding officers who are not well versed in the provisions of the Act are evident in the following comment: At times when the children are not doing well at school, the presiding officers order that they be placed in special schools.
However, there is a huge shortage of special schools. Moreover, it is also not the role of the presiding officer or the social workers to make such decisions; it is the role of the education authorities, since they are experts in the field. A number of participants said that they are requested to order teachers around by the presiding officers who think that they know everything, "yet the presiding officers are not experts in the field of education. A significant number of participants stated that presiding officers demand that they social workers advertise for the biological parents to come forward.
This is the case even for children who have been in alternative care for the past 16 years, who were abandoned as newly born babies and whose biological parents' identities and whereabouts have never been known, and who also do not even know the name of the child, since the child would have been given an assumed name and surname.
According to social workers, this is "ridiculous and an unnecessary waste of time and resources. Some are lesser human beings, or are second-class professionals, so to say. What is more frustrating for them is that they are all ordered to be in court by 8 am, when they only get attended to perhaps at 12 pm, so they spend many hours doing nothing, waiting in a very long queue, which is counter-productive.
At times, when a presiding officer who had ordered a monitoring report is not at work on that particular day, cases are just postponed because the other presiding officers do not want to touch the case because of their own heavy case loads.
The participants' frustrations are captured in the following words: One participant's view summarises this issue as follows: The participants further stated that the police have no clue as to what their responsibilities are as far as implementing the Children's Act is concerned. Furthermore, police officers are not trained to work with children and as a result they intimidate the children.
The participants' views on police officers are reported as follows: Some of the police don't even know what to do when they get to an abused child. You find that when children or parents go to the police to report child abuse, they are dismissed from the police station, they are told [to] go away. These infrastructural challenges will be next discussed. Infrastructural challenges in the implementation of the Children's Act Several participants indicated that they are facing numerous infrastructural challenges in the implementation of the Children's Act.
These infrastructural challenges stem from the unavailability of resources, which is a result of poor funding of the child protection sector. The consequence of poor funding is that it places restrictions on the use of telephones, computers, fax machines and vehicles. These restrictions make social workers fail to adequately execute services as advocated for by the Children's Act 38 of The infrastructural challenges are evident in the following comments: So, that brings a lot of challenges as a collaborative process also becomes a longitudinal process, and along the way, some of the services are not effectively and comprehensively implemented.
Research done by September and Dinbabo Human resource challenges in the implementation of the Chil dren's Act A significant number of participants stated that they face a lot of human resource challenges in the implementation of the Children's Act. They explained these as stemming from the shortage of social workers, which inevitably leads to high case loads. The consequence of the shortage of human resources is that it causes delays in responding to emergencies.
On the other hand, some participants stated that they end up only responding to crises and neglecting prevention and early intervention services. They also end up rendering services in a remedial manner as opposed to the comprehensive developmental services that are legislated for in the Children's Act.
Some participants felt that social workers were not adequately trained on the Children's Act. Sub-themes which emerged from human resource challenges will be discussed next.
Shortage of social workers, high case loads and poor salaries The experiences of most participants regarding the human resource challenges that they face in the implementation of the Act stem from high caseloads; an inadequate number of social workers; and their poor salaries.
These three issues are intertwined as reflected in the following views of participants: We have government, which is offering better opportunities for social workers, so we will always have a consistent migration of social workers from the NGO sector being absorbed into government and that leaves a lot of gaps in the NGO sector. This number includes social workers who work for the government; non-profit organisations, the private sector, as well as those who are no longer in practice but retain their registration status.
Clearly the number of social workers is inadequate for the successful implementation of the Children's Act 38 of Proudlock and Debbie Inadequate training of social workers Besides the shortage of social workers, a few participants highlighted that social workers did not receive enough training on the Children's Act and that is why it is very difficult to implement it, because they do not know its provisions and regulations.
I for one never received any training on how to implement the Children's Act.
I would have thought that something as huge as the new legal system is introduced; people should be adequately trained to know the new system in and out. I for one have been kind of like operating in the dark; it has been on a trial and error basis and I have made a lot of mistakes. Shortcomings of the Children's Act 38 of The majority of the participants stated that some of the challenges they face in implementing the Children's Act relate to the shortcomings of the Children's Act 38 of ; loopholes within the Act itself; and some terms and concepts in the Children's Act that are unclear and ambiguous.
These include, among others, transfer of children to alternative placements; problems relating to section 1 of the Children's Act 38 of ground for finding that a child is in need of care and protection, which states that a child is in need of care and protection if the child has been orphaned or abandoned and is without any visible means of support ; and the fact that the child protection system is very slow in processing cases that pass through it.
An order issued by the Department of Social Development is invalid when the order has not yet been rectified. And then probably issues of interpretation of terms in the Children's Act, in terms of visible means of income. What does that imply? It's a relative term, which can be interpreted differently between all the partners engaged in this collaborative approach.
We need a lot of explanation in order to make it very clear; it also mean that social workers need to attend a lot of workshops because you find that in some cases where the child was removed in terms of section af and gthey overlap each other so at times you find that social workers are confused over which sections to use, is it f or g or it is both sections.
You cannot choose g, for example, and leave f because they complement each other, so in some cases the social workers opted only for f or gand this shows a doubt in implementation; it shows a doubt in saying whether a child is in need of care and protection or not.
Addressing challenges in the implementation of the Children's Act The participants proposed numerous solutions to addressing the challenges they face in the implementation of the Children's Act 38 ofwhich will be discussed under the following sub-themes. Establishing a kinship care grant Most participants stated that their case loads are unnecessarily high due to the fact that they have cases for children who passed though the formal foster care system so as to access foster care grants.
The majority of the participants are of the view that this can be ameliorated by establishing a kinship care grant. This would be for children in the care of relatives who are basically in need of cash and not as much in need of care, and who generally go through the formal foster care system in order to access a grant.
I think it's actually prudent if we have a parallel system that can actually capture some of the children, especially the related placements, so that they don't go through the statutory processes that foster children go through, so that they can actually have their own sort of grant that is administered differently from the foster care grant, so that we reduce pressure on the conventional foster care system.
They stated that the Act should clarify the meaning of certain terms and definitions, for example, the phrase "visible means of support", "ratify", "orphaned" and many other terms. They stated that this would solve all the problems that they experience with the children's courts. So it is actually better if they return that administrative function to where it was before, which is the Department of Social Development, then we will not have an issue of dealing with different courts, spending unnecessary time at court, the issue of different courts having different requirements, this would make life easier.
Therefore, the majority of the participants stated that problems with presiding officers should be addressed: Just as much as doctors would meet to discuss and afterwards release periodicals about new drugs and whatnot, social workers should do the same.
Lombard and Kleijn Institutional obstacles that participants face in implementing the Children's Act 38 of stem from the attitude of social workers who are not well versed in the provisions of the Children's Act and who are not implementing services from a developmental perspective. Successful implementation of the Children's Act requires a paradigm shift and a change of attitude among social workers Mbambo, Social workers are the victims of the Children's Court system, which they do not challenge in the interest of effective child protection services.
The paper begins by reviewing what is known about why superficial child protection practice occurs. It then outlines the research study and its findings, followed by analysis of the case studies and the learning from them. Thinking about how children become invisible The most commonly cited reason why children who are known to be at risk are not protected is breakdowns in communication between professionals and agencies DHSS, An increasingly influential explanation is that the scope for social workers to get to know children sufficiently is constrained by excessive levels of case recording and other bureaucracy, tight timescales for completing work, high case loads, and compliance with procedures and management dictates Broadhurst et al.
The effect of these systemic pressures is said to be that practitioners do not have the time to develop the depth of relationship necessary to keeping children safe Munro,p. A further area of concern and analysis surrounds what occurs in the interactions and relationships between practitioners, children and families. Reviews of cases in which children have died invariably contain scenes where professionals were in the presence of abused children, most often in their home, but the workers did not get close enough to them to discover the abuse Ferguson, Knowledge of such scenes was crucial to shaping my interest in researching what occurs in actual face-to-face practice and how is it possible for practitioners to be in the same room as children and not engage with them in ways that reveal their experience.
Munro shows the forms of reasoning that can lead professionals to remain wedded to their initial assessment and not revise the level of concern despite new information. Laird and Tuck show the high levels of conflict and resistance in child protection work that result in social workers either avoiding or over-identifying with parents and losing focus on the child see also Stanley and Goddard The meaning of the rule of optimism and how it is used in such reports is disputed Dingwall et al.
These understandings of practice are limited by the fact that they are based on retrospective analyses of tragic events that have already occurred, or research into work that has already been done, as opposed to gathering evidence about what happens in practice in real time. Research into encounters between practitioners and children and families is remarkable by its absence Broadhurst and Mason, This paper is seeking to advance understandings by joining up areas that are too often kept analytically separate and presenting evidence from observations of what happens in social worker—service user interactions, while taking into account the impact of organisations and systems on what is and is not done.
Researching child protection practice The research adopted an ethnographic research approach with the aim of getting as close as possible to practice by participating in and observing social workers in their work. The most senior managers in the two local authorities where the research took place agreed to allow access to their staff and individual workers could choose whether they wished to co-operate.
A total of twenty-four social workers took part, nineteen of whom were women, and five men and three were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. I shadowed practitioners by going out with them on home visits, interviewing them on the way to the visit and straight afterwards about their experience—usually in the car—and observing and audio-recording the encounters between social workers and service users.
This was only done when consent was given by all parties. The research was granted ethical clearance by my university and the two local authorities where it took place. In total, eighty-seven practice encounters were observed and audio-recorded, seventy-one of which were on home visits; the remainder took place in social work offices and schools. The key research questions were: What do social workers do in performing child protection, especially on home visits?
What do they say to children and parents? How do they act? How close to children do they get? The research drew on theory that provides resources for thinking about the lived experience of practices like social work. To help someone requires a capacity to think about them and become emotionally attuned to their experience. Thinking is influenced by several things but anxiety is regarded as particularly influential Bower, Child protection professionals experience intense emotions, from their own experience of anxiety, fear, sadness, hope, despair and the feelings of rage, hate, love, gratitude and so on that are projected into them by services users.
These intense emotional experiences are unavoidable in social work and child protection; what is crucial is whether and how they are managed in containing ways that promote clear thinking. The research also drew on theory that helps to illuminate the nature of lived experience. Deepening understandings of how social work is—or is not—done requires analysis of how practice is achieved and experienced not only in terms of emotions and the mind, but through movement, the body and the senses Pink, This method is concerned not merely with the emotional dynamics of interactions, but also with the atmospheres, smells and moods of encounters.
The research sought to enter the internal world of practice and the practitioner as they moved through space and into the homes and intimate lives of children and families, gathering data on what they were doing, feeling and thinking as they were doing it Ferguson, a ; b.
This involved taking account of experiences that are usually ignored, such as journeys, and the car was found to be a crucial space within which workers prepared for and afterwards reflected upon encounters with families.
This approach provides insights into what makes practice flow well and how close, intimate relating to children and parents occurs and into instances in which moving, seeing, talking, touching and thinking straight become difficult and how barriers to engagement are overcome, or not.
In some short- and long-term work, relationships with families had real depth and the interactions with children were very close and intimate. In such casework, children were not only talked to, but hugged, caressed to bring comfort, examined and played with. Babies and pre-verbal infants were picked up, held and engaged in face-to-face, eye-to-eye contact and communicated with through noises and playfulness.
Children aged four and above were spoken to on their own. However, the goal of good practice needs to be expressed in terms of a language that incorporates all the senses and intimacy.
The research findings show that, where children are not meaningfully engaged with, it is the absence of intimate practice that involves eye-to-eye contact, talk, active listening, play, touch and close observation that results in crucial aspects of their experience remaining unknown. A key finding concerned the complexity of the work.
Home visiting is very different from work that goes on in the office or the clinic, as workers have to negotiate with family members and relationships as they are lived out in their space, and deal with the presence of strangers and the impact of the home itself, such as smells and atmospheres welcome, hostile and dogs.
Multiple tasks had to be completed, invariably within time limits: This complexity meant that the risk of superficial, non-intimate practice was ever present. Sometimes social workers were observed in encounters and atmospheres on home visits that threatened to distract them from their focus on the child but they managed to pull themselves back from the edge of being overwhelmed to complete purposeful work Ferguson, b.
But, in a minority of cases, social workers did not overcome these challenges and this resulted in different degrees of detachment from and invisibility of children. This was particularly evident in three cases involving different social workers and families and these will be drawn upon to illustrate the various dynamics. The social worker spent the duration of the visit interviewing the mother in the sitting room, while the three-year-old child spent most of it upstairs, playing with a friend.
The social worker did not directly engage with the child on the one occasion he came into the living room. On those, she addressed concerns openly and honestly with parents, was empathic and strengths based in her approach; she saw the children on their own and observed them interacting with their parents.
What most seemed to throw the worker off balance on this visit was the presence of a family friend who stayed in the kitchen for all of the visit except for one moment when she entered the sitting room, walked across the room and stuck her head through the hall doorway and shouted upstairs very loudly to the children: The family friend was not introduced even though the social worker had to walk past her to get to the living room.
When interviewed afterwards, the worker had a sense that things were messy, incomplete and that she needed to go further and deeper in engaging with the children, which she did by going back much sooner than she had committed herself to doing at the end of the first visit.
The second example involved a home visit in which the worker engaged in a very fitful and largely detached way with the two children, aged ten and fourteen. She did not see the children on their own to discuss what she regarded as quite serious concerns about alleged neglect, despite their father in one of his few moments of overt cooperativeness asking her whether she wished to.
The worker turned down the opportunity, which was very unusual in the context of the study, as social workers generally had to work hard to be assertive in asking to see children on their own. The father was mostly belligerent, restless and highly active, which included patrolling up and down in front of the fireplace and using a dustpan and brush to sweep the living room in front of the social worker.
As soon as the worker stepped out of the home, she spoke vividly about how she felt the neglected house—especially the smell—overcame her. She said she knew that she had been ineffective and half way through thought about leaving. She was viscerally affected by disgust, anxiety and fear. She managed to move physically to inspect the house, but could not think clearly about and focus on the children.
Because the worker knew that she had lost her composure and authority and that her practice was not sufficiently child- or parent-focused, she too went back. The research found that not only were different degrees of intimacy with children achieved, but workers had different levels of awareness of how close to children they had managed to get. As these two case examples show, some workers knew when they had not done what they knew they should, acknowledged that it was very difficult, and that their practice lacked rigour and was unfinished.
It is in situations in which the worker did not engage with the children and at the time did not know that they had not done so that the children can be said to be fully invisible and unheld. Fully invisible and unheld children A case that vividly illustrates this kind of full invisibility and lack of holding of the children involved a social worker who was shadowed on a visit concerning a two-year-old girl, here called Amelia, who allegedly was left unsupervised and found a long way from home.
Mother, here called Mrs Brown, was a lone parent and there was one other child, five-year-old Jamie. It was an announced visit and the social worker arrived as planned at 3. Mrs Brown was dressed in pyjamas and dressing gown, and led the social worker into the living room, where another adult was sat on the settee. Mrs Brown sat down beside this other adult and Amelia, while Jamie was sitting on the armchair.
The social worker sat on the other armchair. I sat on a chair to one side, positioning myself as discretely as possible so as to be able to see and hear, while being somewhat detached. The home was a council property and beautifully presented. The social worker began by reading the concerns from the referral sheet. Unlike most such opening moments observed in the study, the worker did not engage in any rapport building or introduce her purpose as being wider than investigating the specified concerns, such as being a possible source of help.
Going straight into the alleged incident seemed to compound an oppositional atmosphere that was evident as soon as the social worker stepped into the home.
Relationship-based practice: emergent themes in social work literature | Iriss
Mrs Brown flatly denied that Amelia had been left unsupervised and blamed the person who reported it for persecuting her. From the outset, the social worker seemed to be at a loss to achieve any composure. She forgot to introduce herself to Mrs Brown and became aware of this eleven minutes into the visit and apologised. The social worker was totally non-relational towards the children. Although they were present throughout, she did not directly relate to them in any way. Jamie moved around the room at times, while Amelia was also active in the room and snuggled up to her mother on the settee a lot.