Creating a space to think in a structured world: An exploration of the structures, relationships and emotions emerging in Network Meetings in the wider context of child care proceedings

Mandin, Philippe (2014) Creating a space to think in a structured world: An exploration of the structures, relationships and emotions emerging in Network Meetings in the wider context of child care proceedings. Professional Doctorate thesis, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

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This research stems from a long term interest in the challenges of engaging with families often described as “multi-problem families”, who appear reluctant to engage with or are unable to access the complex professional systems that are put in place to protect and support children. Breakdown between parents and professionals is said to feature in 70% of cases brought before family courts in care proceedings (Brophy 2006). The literature review will consider the characteristics of the UK child care and family justice systems that may contribute to this state of affairs and explore a number of projects and analyses that have attempted to address it. The study investigates the complex dynamics between parents and professionals involved in care proceedings, through detailed observations of Network Meetings - a practice that has developed in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and which takes place at the start of court mandated multi-disciplinary parenting assessments. The project has three intersecting dimensions: a detailed description of what happens in these meetings, a contextual description of what this tells us about the care system and an ethically grounded analysis of a developing clinical practice aimed at mediating the transition between court and clinic. The study evolves into an ethnography-inspired exploration of the structures, relationships and emotions emerging in Network Meetings and in the wider context of care proceedings. The methodology draws on a number of epistemological traditions in an attempt to capture the complexity and multi-layered nature of knowledge and experience. An “experience-near” approach is proposed from a “critical realist” perspective that encourages self-reflexivity. A thematic analysis of the meetings highlights some of the characteristics of care proceedings:  the court’s emphasis on structure  the tendencies of “adversarial systems” towards polarisation, binary thinking and closure.  complex relationships between the court and the clinic In this context the request for a parenting assessment emerges as a search for a liminal space (Turner 1969) or thinking space to unravel complex and often contradictory stories, perspectives and experiences that are contested in the adversarial domain of the court and contribute to impasses and delay. The Network Meeting is analysed as a developing professional practice comparable to a kind of ritual that evolved over time in a particular agency and context in an attempt to create a boundaried space for a therapeutic assessment to be planned within the court timetable. Findings illustrate the attempts of professionals to move the system from the structure-dominated domain of the court to a space where less tangible aspects of human systems can be brought into light and opened to scrutiny. The concept of “communitas” and its relationship to “structure” as defined by Turner is used loosely to identify aspects of this transition during Network Meetings. The challenges of defining and researching “communitas” are explored through a critical reflective review of the methodological journey in this project. Conclusions highlight the challenges and value of bringing stakeholders together to experience the emotional and relational qualities of the system, to face the nature of impasses and engage with the complex dynamics, polarised positions and multiple perspectives involved in order to create a more authentic and fruitful thinking space. The characteristics of this space are considered together with the techniques used by practitioners (particularly chairs of meetings) in their attempts to move towards it.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Additional Information: Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the Professional Doctorate in Social Work awarded by the University of East London in collaboration with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust
Uncontrolled Keywords: Professional Doctorate in Social Work, D60
Subjects: Children, Young People and Developmental Pyschology > Child Protection
Social Welfare > Social Work
Department/People: Children, Young Adult and Family Services

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