Remaking Social Work with Children and Families: A Critical discussion on the 'modernisation' of social care

Paul Michael Garrett
Routledge: London 2003
0415298393 (pb)

£53.56 (hb) and £19.99 (pb)
xiii + 193

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Front Cover Remaking social work with children and families explores the shape and trajectory of social work in England and Wales, from the early 1990s, in particular the increasing regulation and control to which it is subject. The book makes a convincing argument that in order to understand the 'remaking' of social work with children and families it is necessary to appreciate the political and ideological factors driving new initiatives. Amongst a plethora of government measures, the author invites the reader to 'take a step back' and cast a critical eye over the 'modernisation' of social care. The work explores the centrally driven changes informing social work practice, arguing that the increasing number of assessment tools can be seen as a form of 'organisational governance'. The book focuses specifically on the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families and the Looking after Children: Assessing Outcomes in Child Care (LAC) assessment models, and critically examines the discourses underpinning their introduction.

The structure of the book is chronological; Part 1 (Chapters 2-4) covers the 'Major period' from 1990 to 1997; Part 2 (Chapters 5-8) focuses on changes and continuities since 1997, with the emergence of New Labour and the 'Third Way'. Part 1 examines the LAC system used by local authority social service departments since the early 1990s, exploring the contradictions inherent in the 'parenting' construct, and the ways in which the scheme relates to 'troublesome' children. It charts the influence of the LAC system on social work, acknowledging its successes, but highlighting failures to engage constructively with children and their families at the developmental stage. The relationship between social work and the police force is also examined, with a critical look at 'working together' in child protection.

Moving on to the 'Blair period', in Part 2 the book describes features of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, arguing that this needs to be weighed in relation to other aspects of New Labour's 'vision for Britain'. A chapter is also devoted to the UK government's promotion of child adoption, described as an 'itching preoccupation' (p95). The focus then shifts to social work's approach to 'race' and ethnicity, arguing that the main emphasis of anti-discriminatory or anti-racist practice is on visible difference, resulting in a rather 'black' and white' view of the world (p111). Crucially, this fails to acknowledge the experiences of Irish people in Britain. Finally, the future of social work is considered in the light of the emergence of new professions, such as the Connexions Service's professional advisers.

A minor criticism is that the topics addressed in Part 2 of the book are somewhat diverse; for example the chapter on race and ethnicity seems a little out of place in the context of the book's main themes and preoccupations. Area-based programmes such as Sure Start, which have attracted substantial government investment, merit only a passing mention. Some consideration of the impact of such initiatives on local authority social work services would have been timely.

A strength of this book is the way in which the author teases out the assumptions underpinning policy initiatives aimed at 'modernising' social care. Thus he invites reflection and debate, suggesting that while change is inevitable, social workers, academics and other stakeholders need to be 'critical agents' in the process (p148). Overall, this is a well-written, accessible and thought provoking book, which deserves a wide audience. It would be of interest to social work students, social care professionals, policy makers and academics.

Pamela Attree
Institute for Health Research
Lancaster University