Grounded theory exploration of social workers’ permanency planning for looked after children in Scotland
Gunning, Melanie Dawn
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Title 1) A grounded theory exploration of social workers’ permanency planning for looked after children in Scotland 2) Experience of childhood maltreatment and reflective function of parents: A systematic review of observational research findings Aims 1) Permanency planning refers to meeting the needs of a ‘looked after’ child by legally securing a permanent family. Delays in securing permanency are associated with adverse outcomes for children. Social workers are integral to this process and yet there is a paucity of research considering how workers make sense of this professional role. The current study aimed to develop an explanatory theory of social workers’ sense making in planning for permanency to identify issues and facilitate a discussion around the experiences and needs of this group. 2) The paper considers childhood experiences of maltreatment in relation to adult reflective function in parenting, a variable implicated in infant attachment security. A systematic review aimed to explore the current research literature examining the association between the experience of maltreatment in childhood and later reflective function in parenting. Methods 1) A qualitative grounded theory methodology (GTM) was used to analyse interviews with eight social workers who had a current permanency role (six female). 2) Following the development of a grounded theory via integration of the data with the theory of mentalization, a relevant systematic review was conducted. The current research literature was explored in relation to adults’ experiences of maltreatment in childhood and reflective function in parenting. 2 Results 1) Although participants described delays in relation to systemic pressures, as analysis of interviews unfolded theoretical sampling explored their experiences of losing and maintaining ‘focus’ on the child in permanency planning. The findings generated a theory positing that workers seek to keep a child’s ‘mentalized’ experience at the fore (to hold his ‘mind in mind’) and plan responsively to make permanency recommendations while negotiating the challenges of person-centred working within a multi-agency system. Workers were found to describe holding ‘mentalized’ interpretations of a child’s past, current, and future experiences during the processes integral to planning for permanency (assessment, early decisions, information gathering, interpretation, integration, and interaction with the wider system). Holding the child’s mind in mind also contributed to the ‘strength of evidence’ for permanency planning, and was, at the same time, vulnerable to the destabilizing effects of the emotional demands and system stressors perceived within the permanency role. Permanency planning and integration of evidence to make recommendations for permanency was responsive to the complexities of interpersonal working, hypothetical futures for the child, and to the potential impact of planning actions for future decision makers. 2) A systematic search of the literature identified seven datasets (of which nine papers) presenting analyses relating to measurement of childhood maltreatment and parents’ reflective function. Conclusions 1) The study theorised a psychological process related to holding ‘focus’ on the child in permanency and concluded with recommendations for permanency practice based on this preliminary model. These included prioritising a culture of professional empathy, training in and availability of protected reflective clinical supervision, post-adoption support for birth parents, and training in working with complex interpersonal behaviour to better facilitate effective permanency planning and improve outcomes for looked after children. 2) Although the identified studies indicated a lack of significant association between the factors, critical evaluation of conceptual, methodological and population issues indicated that the small number of reviewed studies were limited in their capacity to address the review question. After further data reduction according to study quality and separation of analyses according to conceptualisation of mentalization there remained two datasets reporting on CM and adult RF, and three reporting analyses of CM and parenting RF. Conceptual differences regarding mentalization and RF are considered in relation to emerging areas of research in this field.