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The application of complexity thinking to social work: Does having a complexity-informed theoretical approach to practice with early neglect enable a different approach to ideas of change and management of risk?

Drury, Charlotte 2016. The application of complexity thinking to social work: Does having a complexity-informed theoretical approach to practice with early neglect enable a different approach to ideas of change and management of risk? PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Abstract

The aim of this research was to explore how complexity thinking might inform social work with families in need of support around early neglect. Complexity theory has begun to be applied to social work practice, but its practical application has been inhibited by the combined pressures of an emphasis on evidence-based practice, a risk dominated discourse which has driven practice down a managerialist route, and a neoliberal political agenda which has driven a case management model. Using ethnographic methods, participant observation and unstructured interviews, the research followed a team of family support practitioners within a voluntary sector project in South Wales working in early-intervention social work whose practice was explicitly informed by complexity thinking. This thesis responds to three questions: how complexity thinking informed team members’ understanding of practice and how they worked with families to foster change; what characteristics impacted their ability to effect change in families and manage turbulence within the team and in what ways complexity thinking impacted their understanding and management of risk. Findings suggest that the strong theoretical base of the team, underpinned by complexity thinking, was instrumental in the creation of an environment conducive to effective practice, and a model of practice that encouraged collaboration, consistency, containment, challenge and contingency, for practitioners as well as for families. In addition it enabled the team to be anti-fragile to the significant churn they experienced, a challenge that will be familiar to many in social work. Using Beck’s theory of a risk society the thesis explores the idea that risk is an inescapable component of a fast-changing, reflexive modernity and argues that the assessment and control of risk is something that can never be definitively accomplished. Where risk is unpredictable, especially in such a contested area as child welfare, the most useful methods are those that encourage creativity and adaptability, and this is facilitated by complexity thinking.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 April 2017
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 09:48
URI: http://orca-mwe.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/99982

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