“It’s a shared responsibility”. The relationship between the working environment of child protection teams and practitioners’ emotionality and professional resilience: a psycho-social exploration

Poletti, Alberto (2019) “It’s a shared responsibility”. The relationship between the working environment of child protection teams and practitioners’ emotionality and professional resilience: a psycho-social exploration. Doctoral thesis (DSW), University of Sussex.

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My research has adopted a psycho-social approach to investigate the ways in which professionals mediate between the emotional demands of their work and the statutory duties and responsibilities of their role. In order to fully understand the roles played by the professional’s individual characteristics, the team dynamics and the broader emotional texture of the child protection system in shaping the emotional experiences of front-line practitioners, this study has utilised a multiple-case study design. Professionals from two different child protection teams, one in Italy and one in England, have represented the two units of analysis. In particular, the research has explored the emotional vicissitudes of six front line practitioners (three from each team) over a period of sixteen months. Data have been gathered through periodic interviews with the research participants, psychoanalytically informed observations of their supervision sessions, periodic observations of team meeting discussions, and an interactive activity which had involved their entire teams. Doucet and Mauthner’s (2008) Listening Guide has been utilised in order to obtain a deep understanding of practitioners’ stories in a way that actively incorporated ‘the public and cultural narrative that inform their lives, and the crucial intersection of these narratives with other relevant social forces’ (Somers, 1994; 620).
The findings of this research highlight how professionals within the Italian context appeared to be more capable of talking about the way in which their work affected them emotionally, compared with their English colleagues. One of the main reasons for this can be traced to the increasingly paranoid attitude that appears to permeate the overall English child protection system, especially after the death of Peter Connolly (‘Baby P’) and the public outcry which followed that tragic event. The child protection team was seen to have the potential to act as a supportive place where professionals’ emotional responses can not only be recognised and contained, but also where the intensity of these emotional responses can be suitably modulated to a more manageable level. Where this occurs, it can allow professionals to remain in touch with their own emotions, which in turn can enhance their ability to effectively protect and safeguard vulnerable children and their families. Conversely, it was shown that, if professionals are not adequately supported within their working environment, they may be left feeling ‘doubly deprived’ at an emotional level, firstly from the nature of their undeniably challenging work and, secondly, through the imposition of an unresponsive working environment over which they have minimal control. These emotional deprivations may adversely affect their ability to work competently and safely creating a situation whereby less resilient practitioners might identify themselves with negative aspects of their working environment. This could reduce their ability to fully appreciate vulnerable people’s needs and circumstances and to practice safely and competently. Ultimately it might result in practitioners leaving the profession. Contrary to popular perception, it might be the most resilient who would leave first, as they could recognise the damaging effects of an environment which did not contain or support them. Finally, the study makes a series of recommendations that could improve the retention of child protection social workers and enhance the outcomes of their work, including supporting front-line practitioners in becoming more familiar in the ways organisational dynamics might affect their work. The study also highlights the importance, for organisations, of putting in place strategies to create a safe environment in which they can work, and not to make them feel overly exposed towards anything or anyone who could try to affect their ability to perform their duties and responsibilities.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Social Work and Social Care
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV0697 Protection, assistance and relief > HV0700 Special classes > HV0713 Children
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2019 12:05
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2019 12:14
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/81230

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