Aims• Holistic assessment of families• Integrated services• Positive outreach• Non-stigmatising services• Varied response• Links with adult services.
• In the 1960s social work with children became identified with anti-residential care ideas but, after the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act, the number of children in care ballooned as the social workers in the newly formed Social Services Departments were unable to match rhetoric with reality. When the Department of Health and Security (1981) examined the effect of the 1969 Act, it found that it had made no difference to the percentage of young offenders in residential care.
• Among the reactions to the perceived failures of social work in the 1970s was the shift towards short term solutions to social problems such as task-centred casework (Reid and Epstein, 1972). The `problem’ with problem-oriented approaches, as the former civil servant, Sir Geoffrey Vickers, (1981) observed, is that everything has to be reformulated in terms of a problem.
• Of course, there are many situations where problem-solving approaches can give appropriate and immediate relief, which is why many social workers and their clients do feel positive about the work they do. But preventive work is about preventing the problems arising in the first place, not about assessing and dealing with them when they arise.
• Yet we have known for over thirty years that most problems in adolescence arise from situations in the primary school years (Rutter, 1978). Waiting until children become adolescents to deal with these problems is bound to fail; the only way of preventing them is to deal with the conditions which create them in the primary school years.
• References• Berridge, D (1985) Children’s homes Oxford: Blackwell• Cliffe, D and Berridge, D (1992) Closing children’s homes: an end to residential childcare? London: National Children’s Bureau• Crowther, M A (1981) The workhouse system 1834-1929: the history of an English social institution London: Batsford• Department for Education and Skills (2006) Care matters: transforming the lives of children and young people in care Cm 6932 London: The Stationery Office• Department of Health and Social Security (1981) Offending by young people: a survey of recent trends London: Department of Health and Social Security• Reid, W J and Epstein. L (1972) Task-centered casework London: Columbia University Press• Rutter, M (1978) Early sources of security and competence In J S Bruner and A Garton (Eds.) Human Growth and Development Chapter 2, pp. 33-61 Oxford: Clarendon Press Wolfson College Lectures 1976• Utting, Sir W B (1997) People like us: the report of the review of safeguards for children living away from home London: Stationery Office• Vickers, Sir G C (1981) The poverty of problem solving Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 8
Supporting families is at the heart of theChildren Acts 1989 and 2004, and is a keyaspect of the Every Child MattersChange for Children agenda. However,research and inspections have consistentlyshown that children and parents are oftenunable to access support services untiltheir difficulties reach crisis point.
• High quality early education and day careservices enhance children’sdevelopment, especially those from disadvantagedbackgrounds.• Parenting programmes, especially those that aregroup-based and help parents to develop effectivepraise and reinforcement techniques, help toimprove children’s behaviour.
• Befriending and support provided by trained home visitorscan improve mothers’ well-being and have positive effectson mother-child interaction.• There is much anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness offamily centres but little hard evidence of their ability toimprove outcomes for families.However, they are popular with parents and appear able todeliver support services in a non-stigmatising way. Theycan also have an important signposting function, directingfamilies to other sources of support.
• Family support services are unevenly distributed across the UK. They are also less used by certain groups, such as minority ethnic families and fathers. Other families may be particularly hard to engage in family support work, including asylum seekers, travelling families and parents who have mental health problems or misuse drugs.
• The evidence on effective strategies for involving ‘hard-to-reach’ groups suggests, not surprisingly, that family support services work best when the child, young person andparents want to be involved and want the intervention to work, highlighting the importance of reaching out to families and taking time to understandtheir perspective on their needs.