The purpose of this PhD in Social Work at the University of Bristol is to simply understand relationships between frontline Social Workers and families within Intake and Assessment Teams (I&A). I&A is commonly known for its immediate interventions and assessments with children and families at point of referral into Statutory Children’s Services; bound by key legislation such as the Children Act (1989) and the Social Services and Wellbeing Wales Act (2014).
Although I aim to ‘simply’ understand these relationships, relationships are far from simple, indeed Stevens and Laing, (2015); Holland et al., (2013) and Webster et al., (2005) have found that engagements and approaches to safeguarding children and young people remain problematic. The qualitative study aims to explore relationships and understand their functionality, identifying aspects that either hinder or strengthen the formulation of partnerships between social worker and family.
I, as a researcher and social worker am mindful that Social Work practice continues to see fractious relationships between social workers and Family. That relationships are pre-built on characteristics of oppression, power, stigmatisation and organisational constructs which continue to impact on relationships becoming partnerships (Bryan, Hingley-Jones and Ruch, 2016; Megele, 2015; Hennessey, 2011; Ruch, Turney and Ward, 2010).
This research will explore the underpinning organisational systems (Adams, Dominelli and Payne, 2009) to understand its impact upon relationships within direct practice. The Local Authority operates a system with demanding time scales, managerial principles prizing practice accountability and an expected service on rationed resources; whilst battling social justice and human rights (Dempsey and Halton, 2016). Austerity and funding complications impact on service delivery and engagement; recruitment and retention of Social Workers, differing operation models, practice styles and approaches overall; leaving little room for practitioners to develop a ‘holding’ relationship (Ferguson et al., 2020). The identification and exploration of the systems within practitioner interactions with families will provide a foundation to understand relationships more holistically and establish ways to enhance these relations.
Fundamentally, my aim is to enhance the understanding of relationships to better outcomes for children and their families. To provide the field with research to enhance how we engage with families, for families and with families.