Reflective practice in contemporary child care social work
In recent years there has been a steady increase in risk-averse, bureaucratic responses to the uncertainty, ambiguity and risk inherent in contemporary child care social work. This thesis argues that for these conditions to be effectively addressed professional responses are required that challenge the domination of ineffective bureaucratic approaches, which have as their primary objective the elimination of uncertainty and risk. The emergence of relationship-based practice is an approach to practice which ofkrs this possibility. However, the development of relationship-based practice is dependent on practitioners and managers re-conceptualising their understanding of human behaviours - their own as well as those of the children and families they work with - and expanding the knowledges informing their practice. In essence, the development of relationship-based approaches to practice is contingent on social workers becoming accomplished reflective practitioners. Within the literature reflective practice is recognised as complex and there is a paucity of empirical evidence relating to social work practitioners' understandings and experiences of it. This research endeavours to contribute towards an enhanced understanding of the nature of reflective practice and the conditions which facilitate its development. The research findings, generated from ethnographic case studies of two family support teams, suggest that the potential for reflective practice is greater in work contexts which afford containing, reflective spaces in which practitioners have the opportunity to think, feel and talk about their work. Team structures and practices and team managers are identified as pivotal in determining the existence and ef&ctiveness of these reflective, containing spaces. The thesis concludes by outlining a model of containing, reflective spaces and with a call for such spaces to be encouraged as an integral and essential feature of contemporary child care social work practice.