Thinking on the Front Line Why some social work teams struggle and others thrive

Prof Doc Thesis

Foster, Judy 2009. Thinking on the Front Line Why some social work teams struggle and others thrive. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Cass School of Education and the Communities
AuthorsFoster, Judy
TypeProf Doc Thesis

This is a study of problem solving by social workers and analyses what supported or prevented creative thinking. It is a multiple-case study of three social work teams working with vulnerable adults at risk of abuse and those with borderline traits. The three teams respectively: supported people with disabilities in the community; arranged care for people discharged from hospital; and helped homeless mentally ill people.

The psychoanalytically informed observations provided depth insights into the unconscious preoccupations of the teams through counter-transference. These allowed understanding of the emotional meaning of the work for each team, the
anxieties against which the teams were defending, and the unconscious contribution of the service users.

Interviews informed a meta-comparison between the teams. This identified five enabling factors that influenced their ability to function well: the coherence of policies, the degree of professional development among staff, the availability of mental space for creative problem solving, the level of autonomy assumed, and the availability of support structures. The importance of sensitivity to the
emotional meaning of the work became evident, and the value of training and learning opportunities.

The study found that the team which used mental space - through case discussions, supervision and shared working - helped a challenging client group, made a business case for resources, and was sensitive to the emotional undercurrents. But it found that the teams which had limited mental space and supervision, due to lack of staff and high demand, were less able to focus on creative problem solving.

The research concludes that all five enabling factors are crucial for social work teams. It makes a number of recommendations to encourage best practice, including training in clinical supervision and management.

KeywordsSocial work; Current social work practice; Vulnerable adults
Publication dates
PrintJan 2009
Publication process dates
Deposited09 Jan 2014
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