social work

Topics: Sociology, Social work, Parenting Pages: 31 (9733 words) Published: October 13, 2013
British Journal of Social Work (2003) 33, 87–106

The Social Work Assessment of
Parenting: An Exploration
Johanna Woodcock
Johanna Woodcock is Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Plymouth. Correspondence to Johanna Woodcock, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK.

The significance of parenting in the conduct of child-care practice is apparent in a range of legal and policy documents emanating from the government. This has been further emphasized in recent years in the refocusing debate emphasizing issues of need and support. While research in childcare has inevitably involved parenting (for example in relation to child protection), and as the broad concentration has progressed through issues of child protection and family support, this has not generally incorporated the social workers’ construction of parenting, and the ways this is incorporated into, and informs, their practice actions. This is particularly interesting because this focus enables an examination of this construction in the light of broad themes about parenting in the psychological literature. This relates also, therefore, to the debate on (and use of) an Evidence Base for practice. This paper seeks to explore social workers’ construction of parenting, and the way this ‘feeds into’ social workers’ practice actions. The paper found that, while some of the constructions reflected themes in the psychological literature, social workers were rarely informed by overt reference to knowledge gained from this literature. The concept of a ‘surface static notion of parenting’—one which restricted the social workers’ capacity to respond positively to the needs of parents underlying their parenting—was developed as a way of understanding social work constructions and practice actions in relation to parenting. While this is one study, the ‘surface static notion of parenting’ represents a means for understanding one way in which social workers’ constructions impinge on their practice with parents. The implications of this approach are explored. It is practically axiomatic that the assessment of parenting is a major component of child care practice. This assessment is a key element in the Framework for Assessing Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 1999a), which, alongside the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out to provide the new ‘refocused’ emphasis on looking at the needs of vulnerable children and families in order to promote their well-being and ensure that ‘optimal outcomes will occur’ (Department of Health, 1999b). This, in turn, reflected the earlier ‘Messages From Research’ document (Department of Health, 1995). Underlying these

British Journal of Social Work 33/1  BASW Trading Ltd 2003 all rights reserved.

88 Johanna Woodcock
developments is the philosophy of The Children Act, 1989, that ‘the best place for the child to be brought up is usually in his own family’ (Department of Health, 1991a). A concern to assess and promote the upbringing of children by their families is apparent in the Family Support provisions of the Act (section 17) whereby intervention should enhance ’ the parents’ capabilities and confidence so that they may provide effectively for the child’s welfare’(Department of Health, 1991:11). Social workers are also directed to consider parenting in the light of whether it is ‘abusive’ (s47, The Children Act 1989). The issue of significant harm emerges, and compulsory intervention may occur, where they have considered that harm is attributable to the care being given ‘not being what it would be reasonable to expect’ a parent to provide (s31(2), The Children Act 1989). This is about ‘good enough’ or ‘reasonable’ parenting. The assessment of parenting, therefore, has a central legal position in childcare practice. Research studies of social work practice in child and family care have inevitably involved...

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