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Constructing resilience: social workers’ understandings and practice

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Concepts and constructions of resilience have assumed a significant position in contributing to understandings of the psychosocial development of children and young people. This paper examines how concepts of resilience are constructed within the literature, and then explores social workers’ perceptions and use of resilience with young people who were ‘looked after’ or at risk of becoming ‘looked after’. It addresses the interface between social workers’ views and understandings of the emotional health needs of their clients, and the responsiveness of accompanying service interventions.

Using the Framework for Assessment as a platform for discussion, 32 semistructured interviews were conducted with 19 social workers relating to a purposive sample of 52 children and young people (31 boys and 21 girls). Social workers experienced difficulty in conceptualizing resilience, often providing cursory, general or non-expert explanations. Furthermore, social workers described all children and young people within the sample as being resilient, drawing only upon face-value observations to evidence this. Related to this was the low frequency of social workers’ reports of children and young people's mental health difficulties and the concomitant low referral rate to secondary tier services.

The authors argue that social workers’ optimistic perceptions of the resilience of children and young people within this sample, alongside their positive appraisal of their emotional needs, impact on the interventions that are put in place. The paper concludes that the tendency of social workers to project optimism onto their client base calls our attention to a possible transference of the collective need for the social work department itself to be resilient within that local authority.
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Keywords: looked-after children; resilience; social work practice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Psychology Division, 2: Department of Applied Social Studies, 3: Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire, Luton, UK and 4: Independent Research Consultant, Sheffield, UK

Publication date: May 1, 2008

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