Children's Services at the Crossroads: A critical evaluation of contemporary policy for practice.

Author:Axford, Nick
Position:Book review

Children's Services at the Crossroads: A critical evaluation of contemporary policy for practice

Patrick Ayre and Michael Preston-Shoot (eds) Russell House Publishing 2010 134 pages 19.95 [pounds sterling]

As a rule it is much easier to say what is wrong with something than it is to put it right. This book offers a trenchant critique of the status of child and family social work in the UK, arguing that managerialist approaches have de-professionalised staff and caused them to focus more on compliance with procedures than on what they should do to achieve positive outcomes for clients. These failings are institutional rather than personal, it claims, so systemic change is needed rather than tweaking at the edges. But what should this look like?

There is a call for practitioners to be more skilled, reflective and emotionally intelligent, and for services agencies to enable this by developing the characteristics of a 'learning organisation'. Practitioners should be empowered and enabled to be reflexive in their interactions with clients, rather than being expected slavishly to tick boxes indicating what tasks they have completed. Better training and supervision play a part in this. Undesirable aspects of current practice, including risk assessment templates (and their electronic forms) and the plethora of performance indicators, should be cut back severely.

The criticisms are well articulated, especially in chapters by Patrick Ayre, Martin Calder and Alex Chard, and will be familiar to anyone who has read recent reports by Lord Laming, the Social Work Taskforce and Eileen Munro. The proposed solutions need more fleshing out, however. This is where Donald Forrester's chapter comes in, and for me it is the most interesting one in the book because it engages with the realpolitik and draws on perspectives that are traditionally at loggerheads with one another.

While agreeing with the general critique, Forrester argues that there is no 'convincing and coherent vision for what social work is or should be' and makes the case for his own, namely 'professional excellence in delivering evidence-based practice' (p 115). There follows a very useful exploration of some of the main arguments against the use of evidence-based interventions--specifically, those tested using experimental evaluations and found to be effective.

They do tend to individualise problems but this need not be so, he suggests--the FAST programme, for instance, aims to build social...

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