By Andre Cooper, Rachael Hetherington, Karen Bairstow, John
Pitts, Angela Spriggs.
Russell House Publishing
ISBN 1 898924 35 X
This book provides a stimulating commentary on the challenges
facing social work with children and families in Britain.
It synthesises outcomes of research involving English and French
social workers who explored the principles of child protection work
in each country through observing each other’s practice.
It explains the French approach to child welfare and points to
positive outcomes of French practice, both in services to families
and children and the quality of employment for social workers.
Diversity of employment within French social work may lead to
greater awareness of task and focus, matching distinct human
resources for family problems. Time frames for intervention are
Tolerance of risk and uncertainty permits measured responses to
family circumstances. The system can contemplate long-term
intensive support of families if that means maintaining the family
unit. In Britain, our claim to avoid drift is in doubt given
current court delays. We fail to provide sustained support
reflecting the family’s pace for real changes. Ours is a culture of
Could we achieve it here? France accepts a higher level (and
cost) of state intervention and scrutiny of family life than seems
possible in Britain: the relationship between state, church and
family cannot be overlooked in this respect. There seems to be less
stigmatisation of long-term social work involvement in France.
The book reports selectively current French problems of racism,
cultural diversity, unemployment and urban decline. In praising the
inquisitorial judicial process it ignores the current French
interest in adversarial systems. And there remain unanswered
questions about French attitudes to sexuality and children and the
implications for child sexual abuse.
But the book leaves a feeling that child protection can be
positive, welcomed and valued. More than that, it leaves an
impression of French social work as a profession with dignity and
respect. Positive child protection indeed.
Anne Hollows is principal lecturer in social work at the
University of East London. She is co-author of Significant Harm and
child protection training materials for the Children Act 1989