Acknowledging and bearing emotions: A study into child and family social work

Dugmore, Paul (2019) Acknowledging and bearing emotions: A study into child and family social work. Professional Doctorate thesis, University of Sussex. Full text available

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This thesis is the product of an ethnographic research study that uses a psycho-social approach to explore how children’s emotions are engaged with by child and family social workers. This theme is of relevance and professional interest to me as a CAMHS social worker where my role specifically focuses on this area of practice. It also relates to my previous experience as a teacher and supervisor of social workers. Informed by a psychosocial frame of reference to both practice and research, I was interested in the types of dynamics that might play out in the research both in relation to social workers and children and young people and also for me as a researcher/social worker and the participants in the research. The literature identifies a range of knowledge and research that looks at how social workers should communicate and engage with children and some of the barriers that seem to adversely impact on effective engagement. There is also some evidence that specifically focuses on what social workers do when they meet with children, through the use of observation. However, research which focuses on how practice focuses on the emotional dimensions of children’s lives is largely absent from the literature. This study aims to provide a perspective on how social work practice with children attends to their emotional needs and experiences and what factors promote or inhibit this from taking place. Drawing on psycho-social perspectives in research (Hoggett, 2014; Hollway and Jefferson, 2013) this study brings together the individual and the social, giving credence to both. It is founded on an interpretivist epistemology and uses an ethnographic, qualitative methodology. Interviews were analysed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin, 2009) and observations and case records were analysed through a psycho-social lens. Discourse analysis was used to interrogate the case records. Observation reports were shared with a Many Minds panel as part of the interpretive process. The thesis findings demonstrate that whilst social workers engaged with children’s emotional lives to some extent, they often seemed to overlook, ignore or distance themselves from some of the emotional experiences shared and communicated by the iv children and young people they met. Using examples from the observations, interviews and case records, the thesis demonstrates how complex emotional dynamics are mobilised, perhaps consciously and unconsciously, by social workers, to protect themselves from the complex emotional pain and anguish of the families they work with, as a way of managing the realities of the role. It also bears witness to the organisational defences that exist that serve to distant practitioners from full engagement with the emotional experiences they are faced with. This thesis makes an original contribution, developing new knowledge and understanding of complex processes that impact on practice, represented in a model for effective practice – the 4C model. Whilst the thesis identifies the limitations of this research and the methodology used, it also makes a number of recommendations for practice, education and further research.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Additional Information: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Sussex degree of Professional Doctorate in Social Work
Subjects: Children, Young People and Developmental Pyschology > Children and Families - Social Work
Children, Young People and Developmental Pyschology > Emotions
Social Welfare > Social Welfare Personnel
Social Welfare > Social Work
Department/People: Children, Young Adult and Family Services

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