Federation Research Bulletin: November 2019

This month’s research bulletin includes new articles and reports about services and supports for children with neuro-diverse special needs, outcomes for children in care, young adults aging out of care, Facebook and social work practice, and child protection theories.

  1. SSCCY report Children and Youth with Neuro-Diverse Special Needs (2019)
  2. Children in care: Where do children entering care at different ages end up? An analysis of local authority administrative data (2019)
  3. Exploring internal conversations to understand the experience of young adults transitioning out of care (2019)
  4. The use of Facebook in social work practice with children and families: exploring complexity in an emerging practice (2019)
  5. Child protection and disorganized attachment: A critical commentary (2019)

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1. SSCCY report Children and Youth with Neuro-Diverse Special Needs (2019)

Last month, the all-party Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth presented its report on Children and Youth with Neuro-diverse Special Needs to the Legislative Assembly of BC. Through public consultations, the committee heard from parents, caregivers, service providers, and community organizations from across the province about the significant challenges they face in navigating the system and accessing supports as well as where gaps often exist.

The unanimous report includes 16 recommendations to improve services and supports for children and youth with neuro-diverse special needs and their families and provides a summary of the experiences and perspectives shared by British Columbians. The recommendations focus on four key areas to be improved upon: (1) identification and assessments, (2) eligibility and services, (3) coordination and transitions, and (4) child and family-centered support.

2. Children in care: Where do children entering care at different ages end up? An analysis of local authority administrative data (2019)

This study from the UK explores the pathways of over 2000 children who entered care between 2009 and 2015 in one local UK authority (with at least two years of follow-up). The results largely confirm the findings of many other researchers that suggest (1) children entering care are not a homogenous group and that (2) the age of entry into the care system has a strong effect on the length of time children stay in care, and if they leave, where they go.

Overall, about one third (31%) of children ended up staying in long-term care. While some of these children may have found permanence in care, the fact that one in five entrants aged 7–11, and one in three aged 12–17 experienced four or more placements is a matter of significant concern.

When broken down into four groups based on age at entry, the differences were striking. Overall, just 12% of the care entrants were adopted. For children aged 0–2 on entry, 41% had this exit route. However, for the two oldest groups—those entering age 7–11 and adolescents—the most likely outcome was that they would stay in long term care.

These findings suggest that services for children in care must encompass work with children’s families and communities since almost half of the children studied returned to their kinship networks. Additionally, parents and wider kin require at the very least episodic social work services. The research also has implications for placement planning and recruitment and the findings demonstrate the value of authorities using information about the ages of children entering care to planning the resources required to meet those children’s needs.

3. Exploring internal conversations to understand the experience of young adults transitioning out of care (2019)

This paper uses the concept of internal conversations—those conversations we have within our own minds, that enable us to decide how we act in relation to the constraints and enablements of social structure to realize a meaningful life—to explore the experience of youth leaving care.

The researchers found that the internal conversations and meaning-making of the participants were powerfully shaped by their experiences of trauma and disappointment which affects their sense of themselves as active agents in the world.

This study suggests that internal conversations (and the model of “reflexivity” this study was based upon) can help understand and mediate the conflict between external structures and personal agency, thus helping researchers and practitioners understand how young people leaving care make sense of and react to their circumstances. It also suggests that the provision of support for care leavers can only be done effectively if their capacity as an active agent is understood.

4. The use of Facebook in social work practice with children and families: exploring complexity in an emerging practice (2019)

This article draws from a 15-month participant observation study of social work and child protection practices to explore how and why social workers used Facebook in ongoing casework with families to gain another view of the lives of service-users. (Social media use was not an intended focus for this study, its presence emerged during the data analysis phase.)

While some social workers actively searched service users’ Facebook pages, some opposed any such usage. Others were unwillingly “drawn into” acting on Facebook information presented to them by others (such as their managers). Most importantly, the research revealed a lack of guidance and confusion about policy, leaving practitioners and managers uncertain about the legality of using Facebook and the veracity of the “evidence” collected.

The researchers argue that, to avoid social work going down a similar morally indefensible road, or more accurately to remove it from the road it is already on, the profession needs to protect service users from unthinking, unethical, and potentially illegal social media use, while opening up discussion around the use of social media as a possible resource in child protection.

5. Child protection and disorganized attachment: A critical commentary (2019)

The concept of “disorganized attachment” has been influential in child protection practice,  often taken as a marker of abusive parenting and purportedly linked to a wide range of negative outcomes for children and youth. This paper examines the assertions and controversies about “disorganized attachment” within the primary science and poses fundamental questions about the legitimacy and utility of “disorganized attachment” within child protection assessment and decision-making.

The authors argue that, despite a purported association between disorganized attachment and the quality of the parental care the child is provided, there is little agreement in the scientific community about (1) the actual mechanisms of transmission and the link between “disorganized attachment” and subsequent negative outcomes. They conclude with a cautionary suggestion: while attachment theory itself provides a valuable contribution to child protection practice, the concept of “disorganized attachment” should be handled with care.