An exploration of social worker relationships, roles and the wellbeing of children in long-term care

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study explores the social work role with children in long-term care, focusing on how relationships between children and social workers can support wellbeing. There has been increasing interest in relationship-based social work practice since the publication of the Munro Review (2011b) and this study helps to advance our understanding of relationship-based practice in the context of work with children in care. Using a critical realist methodology, the social work role and relationships with children in care were explored within their wider ecological environment. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with children, social workers and managers to explore their perceptions of the social work role, and the extent relationship-building forms part of the role in practice. The findings of the research suggest the relationship-building aspect of the social work role is important for children’s wellbeing in care. Children value reciprocal relationships with social workers, which include their social worker knowing them, understanding them, caring about them, and having time for them. Social workers acknowledge the importance of such relationships but identify significant barriers to relationship-building in practice including increasing caseloads, reducing resources, and timescales associated with statutory tasks. The findings potentially challenge the idea that children in settled long-term placements no longer require social work support, instead supporting a socio-ecological resilience perspective where children are provided with a stable network of support including a social worker. The conclusion provides recommendations for policy and practice which could increase the emphasis on relationship-building as part of the social work role.
Date of Award7 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorJon P Symonds (Supervisor) & David Berridge (Supervisor)

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