Differing perceptions of legislative and policy change in children and families services: a vertical analysis

Huntington, Ann Elizabeth (1999) Differing perceptions of legislative and policy change in children and families services: a vertical analysis. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

[thumbnail of Thesis document] PDF (Thesis document) - Submitted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.



The welfare state is in crisis and it is in this context that statutory agencies, charged with the delivery of services to children and their families, are struggling to define and provide acceptable forms of intervention and service provision. As politicians, academics, media commentators, members of the public and professionals, within various disciplines, debate the appropriate role for social work', state employees charged with mediating the relationship between the child, family and state, attempt to work productively with some of the most disadvantaged children and families in contemporary society. Given the contentious nature of this task it is unsurprising that conflictual expectations and definitions of good practice are evident in this arena. These impact on front line workers and managers, who struggle to accommodate changes whilst meeting statutory
organisational responsibilities, linked to legislative and policy shifts that are implemented on the shifting sands of changing ideological, political and economic imperatives. Within this environment the nature of professional and managerial roles, responsibilities and relationships is of interest as staff respond to initiatives focused on reshaping services.
This is important from the perspective of agency personnel, as shifts often lead to the redefinition of roles and responsibilities in ways that employees may resist. It is also important from a client 2 perspective as the extent to which staff successfully manage the tensions of practice fundamentally affects the nature of service responses at the individual, and organisational level. This research focuses on the impact of changes for social work practitioners, and their immediate managers, rather than social work clients, as they attempt to meet the challenges of implementing, or failing to implement, recent legislative and associated policy shifts within children and families services. Comparison and analysis of the experiences of organisational members occupying various roles, managerial and professional, will highlight the impact and consequences of change for staff across the occupational hierarchy.
In addition, exploration of current issues within one social work service sector will hopefully illuminate key issues in the social work arena more widely. In general, attempting to construct counter narratives, through (re)focusing our attention at differing
levels or in differing directions, is crucial if difficulties identified in relation to contemporary social work practice are not to be wholly ascribed to social work and social workers. Decontextualised analysis, to accommodate the impact on practice of the
application of specific ideological and political doctrines as if they are neutral expressions of good sense, is problematic yet arguably increasingly standard practice in the welfare arena. The tensions arising for social workers, working within what can then be seen as hostile terrain, requires detailed analysis if they are not to be uncritically 5çpcgQatedfind
pilloried within contemporary blame cultures.
The empirical work for the project was undertaken within one metropolitan social services department, using a mix of research methods, to explicate the day to day circumstances of organisational members working lives within a changing organisational context. Fieldwork initially focused on identifjing key organisational members (for example research and policy development officer) and conducting focus groups (4) with staff from children and families services. Guided qualitative pilot interviews (6), and main interviews (34), were then undertaken with organisational members occupying varying locations across the occupational hierarchy. Additionally, collation and analysis of organisational products (over 40 documents from a variety of sources) was an integral part of the project. Finally information collected was analysed using a middle order
approach and utilising a qualitative data analysis package, Atlas/ti.
The preliminary analysis of pilot interviews highlighted a number of significant themes. However, consideration of the extent to which the legislation or the context of implementation has primacy in practice was a key concern for staff; at all levels in the organisation, who faced difficulties and dilemmas in practice around providing services to children and their families. In particular the impact of importing management practices from the private sector and the extent to which budgetary constraints are arguably limiting the implementation of the legislation, and thereby undermining the care ethic embedded in it, were important issues. These preliminary themes have been further developed through analysis of the main interviews. Overall concerns around intentions and outcomes, rhetoric and realities, in social work practice were central for
practitioners and managers.
This Ph.D. thesis reports on empirical work completed and grounds theoretical analysis, fcoiiiimporary issues in the social work arena, in the original research. A focus on the interface between structural changes, organisational responses and individuals' practice experiences constitutes an attempt at crossing the established historical divide in social work theorising, where the focus has usually been on structural concerns or questions of agency in isolation.

Repository Staff Only: item control page