Bedfordshire researchers show therapeutic approach to social work keeps families together

Thu 27 July, 2017
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A new approach to helping families stay together is preventing children being taken into care, according to an evaluation report published by the University of Bedfordshire.

The Scaling and Deepening the Reclaiming Social Work (RSW) Model project, funded by the Department of Education’s (DfE) Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, saw the University work with a partnership of five local authorities (Buckinghamshire, Derbyshire, Harrow, Hull and Southwark) and Morning Lane Associates (MLA), a north London-based social enterprise that provides support to children’s services in local authorities.

Researchers from the University’s Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work & Social Care worked with the five local authorities to assess the success of the roll out of the RSW model, which was developed by MLA’s Director in Hackney and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Hackney model’.

The RSW model approach saw clinicians and therapists work alongside social workers to help families work through their difficulties together. The aim was to help families stay together where it was safe to do so, and to prevent children from being taken into care.        

The evaluation report showed that out of the 119 children referred to new edge of care services introduced as part of the innovation, nearly 80% of them were able to stay at home with their families safely.

One parent involved in the project said: “My social worker has been much less judgemental than I thought he would be. The process has been about us as a family rather than only looking at the child's side and judging or berating the parent. I feel like he was trying to understand and heal. He was a very empathetic worker and has sincere goals for us that's really important.”

A social worker involved in the scheme commented: “I’d like to hope that workers go into families without preconceived ideas with an open mind. It is important that we really listen to families instead of deciding what needs to happen.”

Dr Lisa Bostock, Senior Research Fellow at the University, said: “This new model really looks at helping the family as a whole. The therapeutic approach from social workers and therapists helped families determine their own goals and that they were part of the solution to their difficulties. It helps heal fractured family relationships and improve outcomes for the whole family, as well as the children.”  

The evaluation report recommends that other local authorities consider using the RSW model.

Director of MLA Steve Goodman said: “This evaluation shows yet again that given the chance, social workers can make a tremendous difference to families in crisis. The challenge for local authorities is whether they can create the conditions to make it happen.”

The DFE’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme funded this project and its independent evaluation. Co-ordination of the evaluation was undertaken by the Rees Centre from the University of Oxford (


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