Post-Qualifying Child Care Social Work: Developing Reflective Practice

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Edited by: Gillian Ruch

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    Foreword

    It is an honour to be invited to write a foreword to this book. Having spent almost 40 years of my professional life developing social work education and training, with particular reference to child welfare, I welcome the opportunity to comment on this collection of papers designed in response to the new post-qualification framework for social work with children and families (GSCC, 2005).

    The aims, design and content of social work training have altered radically from the early days of the Charity Organisation Society. Over a century ago, the first social work course was set up at the London School of Economics as a series of evening lectures to inform, ‘young ladies’ engaged in voluntary work about the social sciences. By 2005, social work training had expanded, became clearer about knowledge, skills and values components and had an established qualification route within the university system. In the UK, aspiring social workers should undertake as a minimum qualification an undergraduate degree, followed by a range of post-qualification specialist courses, at the masters and doctorate levels. Additionally, social workers have recognised roles and tasks within the legal framework, in social policy and in the agencies for services delivery, both local authorities and voluntary sector organisations. Thus, from its early days of voluntary, philanthropic activity, social work has become recognised as a professional activity and a legally recognised career path. This is an impressive achievement.

    It is inevitable and appropriate that social work has adjusted over time to societal, economic and political changes. Relevant education and training systems have been developed in response to these changing practices. While in many ways these changes have been necessary and appropriate, many academics and practitioners engaged in education and training have experienced them as happening too frequently and being overly reactive to criticism, particularly from the media. When organisations are under threat, they tend to adopt survival techniques, allowing changes to be made perhaps too hastily with insufficient attention to potential losses.

    Applying these observations to specialist training in child care social work, it is clear that training has been buffeted from all sides by a range of processes. One of the most significant of these has been government responses to child deaths fuelled by the media. Major legislative and policy initiatives have been the direct result of an inquiry into a child death or criticisms of social work practice in risk assessment. The inquiry by Lord Laming into the death of Victoria Climbié (DoH, 2003) is the most recent example contributing significantly to the Every Child Matters agenda.

    From the perspectives of social policy, political shifts away from universal approaches to social welfare have had a profound impact on social work with families. Thatcherism, characterised by emphasising non-intervention, self-reliance and new managerialism, led to the introduction of standardised frameworks for assessment. Although these have the advantage of making professional activity more transparent and therefore more accountable, there are real dangers, that practice has become mechanistic and that training requirements have gradually adjusted in response. Training has become more structured, too heavily dependent on competence indicators and overly reliant on the ‘what works’ agenda’ in research.

    Lower priority seems to have been given to capacity for reflection in education and training structures. This must remain a crucial element within training at all levels because of the unique nature of the circumstances involving social work activity. Throughout history, it has been essential for social workers to reflect before they respond to the most complex and often painful circumstances requiring their intervention. It is the strength of this edited book that the reflection process is drawn back to the centre of the social work training arena alongside observational and collaborative practice, aspects of the work underpinning all interventions. Capacities to observe, reflect and to collaborate should take root at the undergraduate level and be nurtured, so that they flower and infuse all post-qualification initiatives.

    A further strength of this book is its being aware of the need to listen to service users and also to the voices of students. Theirs is the direct proof that these themes of reflection and observation play a critical part in professional learning. The vivid illustrations provided by students enrich the chapters prepared by their very experienced teachers who have contributed to this volume.

    Future students of post-qualifying social work training courses specialising in child care will find this volume a valuable companion to their studies. In the ‘evening phase’ of my career, it inspires me with hope that the things I have always held essential to practice have not been lost. No training courses can be static, but should be responsive to current and future professional demands, building on existing strengths derived from decades of evolution. The editor and contributors deserve praise for the quality and content of each of the chapters and for the effective marrying of unique student experience with established research and literature.

    Dr.GillianBridgeFormer Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and External Examiner for the Wessex Post-Qualification Child Care Award
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