Research into Practice

Jill Manthorpe looks at research in two areas where social
services work in partnership with parents and children to take difficult

The decision whether to send a disabled child to a
residential school exposes strongly held opinions among social workers. Until
recently little has been known about the numbers of children involved or their
needs and opinions. This deficit has been considerably reduced by new research
into the situation throughout England. A recent article focuses on the role of
social services departments in making decisions about placements.1

The researchers
found that the social workers who knew the families considering a residential
place for their disabled child often gave them advice or support "off the
record". Such social workers were often sympathetic to the families’ needs
although many did not know much about the residential school sector. However,
managers were less inclined to see residential schools as a positive option and
focused on the cost. The researchers considered their attitudes to families as
being frequently negative.

Many of those
working in social services voiced opposition to residential schools and this
was evident to parents. Some parents felt they were being criticised or
bullied. This was despite numerous shortfalls in local services. The
researchers note that these may become more severe as there are increasing
numbers of children with very high support needs for whom local services are
not always sufficient or adequate. They conclude that there is a need for
greater support for families and more clarity about working in partnership with
them to secure the best interests of the individual child.

Further research on
working with parents and children in partnership comes from a study of children’s
understandings and coping strategies in response to domestic violence.
2 The authors note that the effects of
domestic violence on children have only recently been acknowledged (outside the
refuge movement), still less responded to. Policy and services are emerging,
together with greater knowledge of the links between domestic violence and
child abuse.

The report is based
on findings of a survey of 1,400 schoolchildren aged 8-15. Most knew about
domestic violence, with boys less likely to recognise that it is common,
difficult to escape from and unjust. Researchers then spoke to a group of 54
children whose mothers had experienced domestic violence. For many this was
traumatic but the children also demonstrated reliance, ways of coping and

The interviews
revealed that most children had known about the domestic violence, even when
their mothers thought that they had not. Children often reported wanting to be
informed of what was going to happen to the family, especially when this might
involve leaving home. Many children revealed a complicated way of coping with
the domestic violence they had seen, including getting help or protecting
themselves, their siblings or mother. Rather than seeing the children as
passive, the researchers argue that the children thought about what was
happening and tried to reduce the harm.

This involvement was
evident in children’s advice to other children who might be in a similar
position. They emphasised that it was not the child’s fault and that the child
should tell another adult. However, the researchers found that, despite this
strength, many children did not have good access to community support
structures. Their main source of protection was their mother, and the
researchers conclude that social workers need to build on this important
attachment to promote the safety of both.

D Abbott, J Morris and L Ward, "Disabled children at residential schools
and the role of social services departments", Practice, 14 (1),

G Hague, A Mullender, L Kelly, U Iman and E Malos, "How do children
understand and cope with domestic violence?", Practice, 14 (1),

Jill Manthorpe is
reader in community care at the University of Hull.

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