‘A friend and an equal’: do young people in care seek the impossible from their social workers?

Journal article citation:
British Journal of Social Work, 40(3), April 2010, pp.772-788.
Oxford University Press

Recent policy initiatives have begun to recognise something that has long been indicated by research findings and by studies of young people's views: that, for children in local authority care, having a positive and sustained personal relationship with their social worker promotes their well-being. This article presents findings from a research study in which 11 young people in care were interviewed regarding their views on the role of the social worker. Their response, that a good social worker is like a friend and an equal, appears to challenge notions of the social work role and professional boundaries. This article discusses what the young people meant by these terms. It concludes that the meaning is linked to core values underlying social work practice including listening, providing emotional support, respect and empowerment. The article argues that, in order to accord with these young people's wishes and with research findings on what promotes best outcomes for looked after young people, social workers must be enabled to give more time to sustained direct work with children in care. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Subject terms:
looked after children, professional role, social workers, social worker-service user relationships, user views, empowerment;
Content type:
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