Rethinking place and the social work office in the delivery of children's social work services

Stanley, Nicky orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7644-1625, Larkins, Cath orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2999-6916, Austerberry, Helen, Farrelly, Nicola orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9006-335X, Manthorpe, Jill and Ridley, Julie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0879-308X (2016) Rethinking place and the social work office in the delivery of children's social work services. Health & Social Care in the Community, 24 (1). pp. 86-94. ISSN 09660410

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Limited attention has been given to the concept of place in social work research and practice. This paper draws on the national evaluation of social work practices (SWPs) in England undertaken between 2009 and 2012. SWPs were pilot organisations providing independent social work services for children in out-of-home care in five sites. One factor distinguishing some of these pilots was their attention to place. The evaluation employed a mixed methods approach and we use data from interviews with 121 children and young people in out-of-home care, 19 birth parents and 31 interviews with SWP staff which explored their views and experiences of the SWP offices. Children and young people
were alert to the stigma which could attach to social work premises and appreciated offices which were planned and furnished to appear less institutional and more ‘normal’. Daily interactions with staff which conveyed a sense of recognition and value to service users also contributed to a view of some SWP offices as accessible and welcoming places. Both children and parents appreciated offices that provided fun activities that positioned them as active rather than passive. Staff valued opportunities for influencing planning decisions about offices and place
was seen to confer a value on them as well as on service users. However, not all the SWPs were able to achieve these aspects of place, and engaging children and families in place was less likely when the service user population was widely dispersed. Recognising the importance of place and how place is constructed through relationships between people as well as through the physical environment appeared to be key to creating offices that combated the stigma attached to out-of-home care.
Those leading and managing children’s services should explore ways of involving local communities in planning social work offices and turn attention to making these offices accessible, welcoming, places.

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