I worked as a researcher for 10 years specialising in research in the areas of child protection and the care system before undertaking my PhD. I have been involved in studies on kinship care, child neglect, social pedagogy in residential children’s homes and peer violence in foster care and residential settings.
The way that the state responds when there are concerns about the welfare of children is related to values and conceptualisations regarding the rights, roles and responsibilities of children, parents, families, social workers and the state which have predominantly been examined and theorised at the broader organisational, political and societal level. Yet, there is a lack of research about how the rights, roles and responsibilities of children, parents, families and the state are constructed at an interactional level. This thesis examines the approaches to working with neglected children and their parents that are constructed in and through interaction, attending to the relationships between children, parents, social workers and the state that are constructed interactionally. In a socio-political context that has increasingly responsibilised parents, a focus on child neglect is particularly pertinent because poverty and social deprivation render the attribution of responsibility to parents more problematic. This study draws on social constructionism and uses an interactional sociolinguistics analytic approach to examine how approaches to working with children, parents and families are constructed in accounts of practice obtained through interviews and focus groups with social workers and in a practice context: the child protection conference.
The findings of the study show that social workers construct and negotiate multiple ideals of social work with children and families in their accounts of practice in relation to neglect. Tensions and contradictions between ideals are navigated through preferencing interactionally the ideal of protecting children from (risk of) harm. Analysis of the nature and extent of parents’ and professionals’ participation in child protection conferences provides a new model that extends our understanding of interaction in these meetings. The findings reveal the complex ways in which parents’ contributions are marginalised because they are interactionally disempowered. This challenges the ideal of participation and demonstrates that working in partnership with parents and anti-oppressive practice, core principles of social work, remain empty signifiers, not interactionally achieved. Together, these two complementary strands of the research demonstrate that a dominant child protection approach is constructed interactionally, reflecting but also constituting the broader context in which a similar approach dominates. This study contributes a greater understanding of how, in relation to child protection work, the local interactional context shapes and is shaped by institutional realities.
Eleanor dot Lutman at warwick dot ac dot uk