I am grateful for this guest post from a parent who wishes to remain anonymous. She considers  the dangers inherent in a stereotyped ‘one size fits all’ package of ‘intervention’ to meet the needs of ‘troubled families. They give a sense that difficulties are being addressed when in fact, they may not even be understood. Presenting service users as crude stereotypes gets in the way of ‘good’ working with families which requires engagement and relationship building. 

When my son entered Care it sometimes felt as though we have got him on the last transport out of a very dangerous city in a time of war. We, the adults, had been left behind to face a regime focussed on our ‘re-education’ while he had been rescued to a place where we could never go.

One of the most surreal moments I experienced during my re-education (Troubled Families Parenting Programme – 30 hours plus etc.) was sitting facing a panel of police officers while they explained the concept of ‘joint enterprise’. I was surrounded by parents of babies, tots, school refusing adolescents, young men beyond parental control and young women with extremely poor mental health. My peers appeared to be reasonable parents although we all had difficulties – mostly around poor mental health and violence if I had to guess. I’m not sure if telling us about one of the dangers of ‘gang’ membership could ever do anything more than frighten us and we were all frightened enough already.
I can only imagine that someone had an idea in their head of what our families needed and had developed a ‘one size fits all’ programme to address these stereotypical needs.

Presumably someone had decided it would be good for us to attend this session on the basis that we were all parents in need of social care who lived in an urban mixed ethnicity area. On our parenting course no one ever talked about the impact of poor mental health, poverty or domestic violence – all problems that were discussed were framed in terms of poor parenting/relationship skills and failure to take our place in and contribute to our communities. These omissions were not explained and no one seemed to consider this a lost opportunity or that courses such as these could even be harmful if they gave all a sense that difficulties were being addressed when, for many, they had not been understood. This is not to denigrate these courses but to use an analogy It was as if before the doctor in a NHS hospital would see us we were prescribed antibiotics and measured for a shroud by a private company with a contract to measure for shrouds and prescribe antibiotics only.

The reality is that families may have any number of difficulties that cause a rift between parent and child and indeed children may enter Care for lots of reasons including death of a parent, abuse, risks that adults in their lives pose, violence or addiction in the home, illness of parent or child and lack of resources to address difficulties. This lack of resources puts parents in poverty at most risk of losing their children although for each child and family there are likely to be a unique set of circumstances that can lead to the same outcome.

Working with Families

Good social work I believe, although I’m not a social worker, involves engaging families with an open mind, responding to all as individuals and engaging with the reality of their needs and circumstances. By contrast popular culture presents service users as crude stereotypes – feckless, drawn to crime, poorly educated, brutal and above all ‘less’. It is if all believe that it is not ‘morally acceptable’ to need services in and off themselves. The Victorians took the same stance. They gave the destitute ‘moral instruction’ via the pulpit. Church attendance was required if anyone needed to access parish relief. Parish councils gave way to local government. Eventually the welfare state was born. Those involved in its birth were incredibly proud of their achievement. Those now dismantling it seem very pleased with themselves too.

Children that enter Care

When a child enters Care it is almost inevitable they will experience difficulties within Care and beyond as a result of their experiences although with good support, the effect may be minimised and the child may thrive. That is what all hope for and should be working towards. Any way to help carers and others to understand why life might be difficult for a child in/from Care and how to help them has to be positive. There are ethical ways of presenting personal narratives to educate others about the impact of action/inaction, abuse, neglect using first person narratives possibly illustrated in cartoon form. Similarly if an abused child enters Care and in turn loses her own child to the State she too could give a first person narrative of how her abuse affected her and how her own corporate parent could have helped and prepared her for parenthood. If an adoptive parent wishes to give an account of how their previously abused child is struggling coming to terms with what happened to them and how it negatively impacts family life, than that is a first person account that can be taken at face value. These are all powerful, ethical ways to explain the impact of abuse and neglect and life experiences.

Why would we need to paint anyone as a demon before we can care about their child – even though that is the job all take on?

I have heard looked after children speak about foster carers in the most positive terms possible – about love and care given and received well into adulthood and beyond. It is good that all are prepared to understand children who enter Care who may not be able to name their complex emotions particularly if they have been badly neglected, physically or sexually abused.

Unfortunately some information provided to social workers, foster carers and adopters portrays a picture of birth families as universally neglectful and abusive and in the most extreme terms. One company in the business of selling their services promote what is described as ‘virtual reality’ to explain the impact of poor early caregiving on a child including virtual reality from the perspective of a fetus.

This material does not make clear what are beliefs, what is known and what is disputed. This is one of the worst portrayals of families who have need of services that I’ve seen but I’ve seen lots more that come from the same perspective much of it from big players in the market like the NSPCC. These are crude exercises in selling services and raising income and there appear to be no critical examination of their extremist nature and the harm they cause in and of themselves.

So what is the harm in material like this?

Simplistic portrayals of people who have need of children’s services, packaged as ‘virtual reality’ are not in anyone’s interest particularly a child’s. I question if suitable carers and adopters should need to be told birth parents are stereotypically abusive, emotionally detached and poor before they can understand how to love a child and try to reach a child irrespective of how unlovable they may first appear because they are hurting so much.

It is also questionable whether social workers who have considerable power to intervene in families are helped to view each situation on its own merits when exposed to material such as this. Shared parental responsibility when it applies, is hard for all and takes commitment to work through in a child’s best interest. Any carer or social worker is very unlikely to show any commitment to it after being exposed to educational material that presents parents as universally dangerous and neglectful .

The most disturbing aspect of material that reduces people to crude stereotypes is not that it is out there being used by local authorities day in, day out but that few people seem to question why this might be a problem even though if it were produced about any other group, much of it or so I believe, would be a hate crime. Is this an almost inevitable consequence of the ‘privitisation’ of care and adoption where many of the big players are slaves to their balance sheet – No examination of methods, no checks, no balances, no scrutiny, no control and hate packaged as love.

Stereotypes,  are used to avoid genuine engagement with social and economic problems and to justify widening inequality. The construction of neglect in contemporary discourse needs to be seen in the context of increasing public and media discourse fuelled by political ideology that stigmatises and demonises people living in poverty and holds them responsible for their children’s neglect because of their behaviour and poor choices.

Anna Gupta (2017) Poverty and child neglect – the elephant in the room?
Royal Holloway, University of London,


15 thoughts on “Stereotypes

  1. looked_after_child

    This is what ground rules looks like if you are talking about a group and thinking about research –

    ”It describes how you can begin to genuinely involve autistic people in your research – in such a way that it promotes trusting relationships, is built on mutual respect, and involves listening to, and learning from, one another – that is, being empathetic researchers.” when it comes to the Care system – where are families voices?
    Why do so few ask that question? ..Into that void comes ‘Sterotypes’ produced by groups with their own agendas.

      1. Angelo Granda

        On the subject of professionals talking and one paying the other.

        One weapon in the LA armoury often used to achieve its arbitrary aims is the Social Work/services consultant. Ostensibly, its recommendations and advice are sought and paid for to improve ‘services’ delivered to ‘service-users’.
        In my view,as a parent with general experience of Public Services, the consultants are really brought in when it is the LA’s intention to whittle down services and support offered to its citizens.Bringing them in is a method used to assist in breaking down Public agencies and this includes Social Services.It is always pretended that reports paid for and received are objective coming from independent,trusted experts and assumed wrongly that the said expertise is beyond that of the front-line professionals ordinarily employed by the authority itself. In reality, the LA’s ignore their own employees and bring in the consultants to provide ‘so-called’ independent arguments in favour of what they have already committed to behind closed doors anyway!
        Of course, the outside consultants we are talking about are au fait with all this and ensure in advance what exactly it is that is asked of them ; not only that but also they check their advice and recommendations with their clients before delivery. The Local Authority will then endorse them and present them to their own staff and the Public as independent ,making it quite clear that all the propositions must be complied with by imperative.
        Naturally the outsourcing of services previously done by their own qualified staff,on the advice of the consultants, will be directed towards companies which already have a good working relationship with the authority and/or the same consultants; in other words they are favoured companies perhaps ones which have lobbied councillors and made suitable donations to political-party funds.
        Radical changes to front-line practices are called for. SW’s at the coal-face should see to it that their advice is followed rather than acquiesce with the shoddy run-down and destruction of vital services in the interests of politicians.

        Stereotyped language.
        Looked after child ,i recall you commenting somewhere else that those who control the language really have power. In my opinion,stereotyped bureaucratic,unintelligible language is used by many CP professionals deliberately with the intent of ‘gaslighting’ and ‘coercive control’ of Courts as well as other CP professionals. Even Judges don’t understand it let alone simple solicitors. Parents, no matter how intelligent struggle with it.The evils of the system often owe a great deal to the use of language and the form taken by professional reports and assessments.For example,readers should look at those reports etc. you have linked us to above. It may be thought it is easier for the writers to be brief using such words and phrases but in actual fact it is artful deceit. It does not benefit ordinary readers or ordinary lawyers even. They aren’t set out in plain words and phrases but in nebulous short paragraphs and bullet points designed to obscure. The main points are not even put in appendices and footnotes .The average SW or lawyer will not find them clear at all let alone judges and laypersons. This matter of bureaucratic language concealing inhumane policies is one that was spotted and discussed by ancient philosophers and more recently extensive criticism of the same was included in the collected works of Chairman Mao.
        So no,I am not a conspiracy theorist before anyone comes on to accuse me !
        Ordinary child-protection professionals will tend to be unable understand the reports ,nevertheless they will feel obliged to follow the policy ‘imperatives’ and ‘advice’ contained therein. It is not likely to help their careers if they argue,is it? My advice to these unfortunates is that they identify the gist of the reports by looking at the final decision only.
        a) If the focus is in agreement with the Children Act i.e. if it shows willing to offer support to the families concerned and keep them together,go for it.
        b) If the focus is on withdrawing the rights of families enabling the Local Authority concerned to renege on its fiduciary duty to citizens then you must argue against.

        I am assuming that there is some semblance of democracy remaining within the system; if not you will just be ignored.If so, don’t let them ride roughshod over you,go into court and tell the truth.

        Social Workers ( and lawyers) next time you meet up with a poor mother ,perhaps with a bloody nose and a broken face,in scruffy clothes and hoody, suffering from depression perhaps and /or illegal drug use, in misery and a state of ruin ,remember most of all that she is a fellow human-being not an animal. Treat her with respect and respond with generosity and charity. Help her get out of the hole she is in even if a self-dug one. Do not punish her and destroy all she has left. Her child is all she has and she is all the child has. In fact the children are her life and vice-versa Do not set your aims on punishing her and destroying a family. FOCUS on your duty and true vocation in life.

        Thanks once again for the tireless contributions to looked after child. Hope this helps.
        All comments welcome.

  2. looked_after_child

    These groups refer to ‘research’

    It is worth considering what research entails and where ‘bias’ sits

    Probably more bias: (red light) be wary of research into any intervention carried out by those who stand to gain by its success, whether financially or in reputation. Research that has been privately funded by a company selling a particular intervention approach, or a charity that devised it, is likely to be biased. Where research is commissioned or undertaken to answer questions of health policy or social policy, check out the background of the research. Regardless of who carried out or paid for the research, beware of any report of findings which aims to score points for a particular political position or personal opinion. Where research findings are used in media reports to make a particular case, check out whether it is really evidence that is being reported or simply opinion and distorted evidence.

    Well, that seems to ‘do for’ so much of what is produced in the name of evidence in favour of govt policy produced by the commercial giants and minnows of the Care and Adoption market, as far as I can tell..

  3. Angelo Granda

    I agree with the writer that good social work entails addressing the reality of a situation ignoring opinions and templates based on stereotypes also training films and virtual reality brainwashing techniques including animated cartoons and life-like figures in films.
    It is vital, in my opinion, that social workers understand and that every case is different. They are not playing a computer game or making an adventure film, they are expected to stick to REALITY even though it may take them more time to investigate and to discover the facts and in EVERY case talk to and question parents and families, I am afraid they must do it without fail. Children are entitled to have fair and impartial enquiries carried out because that is the only way decision-makers and experts can possibly arrive at well-informed ,correct appraisals.
    Yes , we empathise with the difficulties SW’s face, the overwork, the lack of time etc. but they have to realise when they go on the computer and access a template before they enter stereotypical information based on past cases etc. it leads to wrong information being entered into Court cases and hopeless injustices. For the many, many children wrongly removed from their loving families permanently on the strength of reckless statements and assessments made as a result it amounts to nothing less than a humanitarian crisis. It destroys their lives and their family’s lives.

    I was particularly interested in the writers mention of failing to take place in our communities.In the core-assessment of one family ,one of the first things stated was that the family ‘keep themselves to themselves ‘ and don’t take any part in community life. That must have been based on a stereo-typical template because a) the SW never involved the family in the assessment and not even bothered talking to them or asking questions. So they had to have made it up. Of course, it wasn’t the only made -up assertion either. b) the opposite was true, the family were friendly with all the neighbours and took part in all local events, traded locally ,gave and attended parties etc.etc.
    Unfortunately Mum told her solicitor who seemed to think such reckless behaviour was of little consequence to the grand scheme of things obviously because she did not even object or raise the issue. I look forward to contributions from others on this thread.
    Surely, professionals realise each case is different; I know they do a lot of predicating but they must stick to the real world and forget about examples and films shown to them whilst training.

  4. looked_after_child

    Well I looked up the ‘virtual reality’ people and their programme has been evaluated here:-

    – The Beginning Attachments training strategy was to embed the theoretical principles underpinning
    an attachment-based therapeutic method, known as ‘dyadic developmental psychotherapy’ (DDP), in a group-based course with individual follow-up, which was jointly designed and taught by accredited DDP therapists or trainers and adoptive parents employed by Cornerstone. Cornerstone’s proposal suggested that the training would be the first of its kind in the UK which is designed for parents by parents and benefits from leading academic input and validation (Cornerstone Partnership, 2014).

    ….very good choice of the word ‘suggested’.

    They discovered that peer to peer support is appreciated as anyone in a closed Facebook group would probably agree. As with closed Facebook groups anyone outside the group might warn of the dangers of talking only to a closed group of people who hold the same opinions..

    This was the researchers conclusion about the programme:-

    • the specification and alignment of the distinctive, and separate, adoption support roles of statutory social workers, independent trainers and peer mentors is of most significance. Tension between the various roles should be allowed for, as this can enhance service impact. Similarly, where there is any risk of role substitution and role blurring, this should be mitigated in service design

    the integrity of the social work role must be preserved as a matter of priority, where support functions are re-aligned, to ensure statutory duties owed to parents (and children) are exercised appropriately.

    Must be getting desperate for more money, hence the virtual reality nasty movie?

  5. looked_after_child

    The report is very good.
    QUOTE about programme design

    On this account parenting is fully therapeutic when it incorporates the capability to enable children to
    ‘preserve their personal history to use and revisit at their own pace’ (NICE 2015, Para.
    1.1.15). However, the significance of research findings on effective and promising approaches to enabling children to develop narrative coherence about their life story (Watson et al., 2015) was not uppermost in programme thinking and design at the outset. A key challenge for adoptive parents is enabling children to hold in their own minds, as well as address directly through contact, those attachment and other relationships which are disrupted by the journey through care (Thomas et al., 1999; Brodzinsky, 2006; Boswell and Cudmore, 2014).

    It is rarer still to find children’s own accounts of the adoption process on which to base service development (Morgan,2013; Neil,2012, 2013; Selwyn et al., 2014). Furthermore, research findings addressing family relationship dynamics in adoption from other theoretical perspectives were not cited as being relevant to enabling practice success.

    It gives in passing a VERY caustic critique of the Adoption Support Fund as it is currently used that I’ve not seen anywhere else and is long overdue.

    I’m not sure Cornerstone would have been too pleased.

  6. looked_after_child

    And the final quote – Individual children were not identified and tracked, and so programme impact on children’s experience of adoptive parenting (the overarching aim of the intervention) could not be measured and compared with the experience of those who were not in the programme. Nonetheless, when comparing Adopt Berkshire service data for the year prior to intervention, outcomes do not indicate any notable programme impact.

    This programme is still in use in 2018 – Why?

  7. HelenSparkles

    I think the reality is that the help available does not always fit the need. There is indeed a political rhetoric around the feckless that others and it is that narrative enables people to look away.

    It should be better, but shall we try and park the blame where it is needed. The resources identified by an LA as being within their budget and which would generally meet the needs of their demographic will funded. There is a limit to what can be funded. I feel lucky that I can usually put together a package of support that does fit a family.

    This means that some areas will have support which doesn’t meet a family’s needs. The 30 week course may not have been anywhere near meeting your needs, but somewhere in those 30 weeks, I hope there might have been something useful. What can I say except vote Labour, or at least for a party that doesn’t imagine those with children’ services involvement as parasitical ‘troubled’ families. That was a programme funded by central government (which is why it is still available in LAs who have little else) because the funding was ring fenced. It was in response to the riots and it was politically expedient to identify families who were ‘troubled’. The reason it has worked in my LA is that it was implemented very differently, there are various courses, but there is a kind of pick and mix menu of preventative work. it was one of those situations where MPs wanted to say they were tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. It was deeply unhelpful.

    Child protection and children entering care do conjure up feelings of shame and blame, as a SW I can’t change how people feel, but we should always be working towards ameliorating those emotions.

  8. Angelo Granda

    I agree with you , Helen , that we should try and park the blame where it is needed. although one hates to play the blame game and attack individuals, of course.
    It appears to me that when you take a case, you do not only consult the computer ,you also make an effort to talk to the family involved in order to discover the real facts,to carry out an impartial investigation and when you honestly feel the family will benefit from support and intervention ,training and so on, you have the ability to discuss it with them being open and honest, telling them of your concerns and what changes you feel should be made in order to bring up the child/children involved. You are able ,in most cases ,to identify and put together a package of support to fit a family DESPITE funding shortages.
    So where do we park the blame?
    Possibly on SW’S who make no effort to conduct cases in the way you do? E,g. they don’t even approach the family and question them in order to discover the facts or to carry out a proper investigation into problems, if any, or to make a genuine attempt at creating a support package.
    It is too easy to blame the SW’s. I blame the LA and its lawyers and the reason why is because I believe management and lawyers direct the SW’s. Why am I convinced this is the case? Because I have spoken to SW’s and they will never act openly and honestly or answer questions. I think they are directed not to do so .They always say they have to consult the lawyers first and will not discuss matters honestly and independently. Also , they often appear friendly, understanding and helpful initially and then change their attitude completely after returning to the office and consulting their superiors and legal dept. Also, apparently they put stuff in reports and assessments which is not only untrue but malicious then when a parent faces them down they will claim not to recall writing it. Yet they sign the reports.
    I believe that in too many cases, the managers and lawyers ‘write’ them and then either direct the SW’s to sign them , insert facsimile signatures or if they don’t do that they will alter the SW’s actual reports to fit with their own aims and intentions for the children . These lawyers and managers don’t even see the family or the children and make decisions dishonestly. I have stated on another thread why I think they are so keen on procuring children into care.
    So what can legitimate SW’s advise to change the situation and ensure their colleagues act correctly. Stand up to management possibly? All comments welcome .

  9. looked_after_child

    Petition to Government

    Changes to Children Act 1989

    Urgent action is required to give more rights & protection to parents/carers & also vulnerable children in care

    Sections 20 & 31 of Children Act are currently unworkable, resulting in a care crisis. We call on government to take urgent action to make changes to legislation & guidance to protect the parenting/caring role from a distance by:
    A more humane ethical family centred approach where birth & adoptive parents & special guardians can be seen as part of the solution & not part of the problem, in striving to do their best caring for their children.
    Safeguarding vulnerable children with new legislation & legal frameworks that also supports parents/carers when children are ‘beyond parental control’ which may be related to poor mental health, disabilities, early life trauma, abuse or neglect.

    Click this link to sign the petition “Changes to Children Act 1989”
    The Petitions team
    UK Government and Parliament

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