Social work, deprivation and child welfare interventions

Kate Morris, Will Mason, Paul Bywaters, Brid Featherstone, Brigid Daniel, Geraldine Brady, Lisa Bunting, Jade Hooper, Nughmana Mirza, Jonathan Scourfield, Callum Webb

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81 Citations (Scopus)
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The relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect, and between levels of poverty and children’s chances of state removal or coercive intervention has received attention nationally and internationally prompted by a growing evidence base (Berger and Waldfogel, 2011; Bywaters et al., 2016; Pelton, 2015). As part of a UK study of child welfare inequalities, this article considers findings about how social workers describe, discuss and are influenced by the social and economic circumstances of children, families and localities, when arriving at decisions to intervene because of care and protection concerns. The article draws on a unique mixed methods comparative study of frontline practice in England and Scotland. Evidence from Bywaters et al. (2014, 2017a; CWIP, 2017) sets out the variable rates of care and protection interventions across and within the UK, and identifies that the primary determinant of these inequalities in rates are children’s social and economic circumstances. Detailed findings from the analysis of these quantitative data are reported elsewhere (Bywaters et al., 2017a; 2017b). For the purposes of this article it is sufficient to note that the data demonstrated ‘deprivation was the largest contributory factor in children’s chances of being looked after and the most powerful factor in variations between LAs. This was seen for children of different age groups, boys as well as girls, and children on CPPs as well as LAC’ (CWIP 2017, p.2). A review of the literature indicates this is an international as well as national phenomenon (Bywaters et al., 2016). Expressed starkly, children in the most deprived 10% of UK neighbourhoods are over 10 times more likely to be in out of home care than children in the 10% least deprived localities. Such inequities raise profound ethical, policy and practice questions for social work, given that social work intervention can be argued to be a particularly acute representation of the underpinning settlement between the family and the state (Morris et al., 2015).
This article discusses the findings from fieldwork in fourteen sites within six local authorities. The data suggests social work has arrived at some complex and contradictory positions in responding to poverty, that this reveals broader social and cultural influences, and that fresh conceptual and applied approaches are needed given the systematic and structural nature of the relationship between interventions and deprivation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-372
Number of pages9
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Issue number3
Early online date17 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

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  • poverty
  • child welfare inequalities
  • care
  • child protection
  • social work


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