Re-constructing children's identities: social work knowledge and practice in the assessment of children's identities
This thesis is an exploration of how social work practitioners learn about and assess children's identities within the Core Assessment process contained within the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. A qualitative case study was conducted within one childcare team in a local authority in South Wales with participation from key stakeholders involved in the assessment process: practitioners, parents, carers, and the subject children. Thirteen social work practitioners and eleven parent/carers participated in semi-structured interviews that explored what they understood identity to mean together with their appraisals of assessments of children's identities. Access to children was gained with consent of the parent/carers, with ten children taking part in a multi-method research strategy aimed at ascertaining children's own accounts of their identities. Core Assessment documents and interview data were analysed utilising textual analysis. The data from the children has been reproduced, wherever possible, verbatim to ensure their voices are made prominent within the study. The key findings are that the assessment of children's identities is an intricate, iterative task that poses practitioners with considerable practical and moral issues. Practitioners appear to utilise artistry in their management of the assessment task, commonly not making explicit the sources upon which their assessments of children's identities are based. It would appear that practitioners prefer to present their assessments of children's identities in the form of a narrative account, of which ownership of the details remains very much in the hands of the practitioner. Within this thesis subtle yet important differences between how practitioners, parents, carers and children construct identities is unearthed. It is posited that practitioners' assessments of children's identities do not reflect the individuality of the child and the reasons for this are explored. Also the adequacy of the Assessment Framework as a tool for assessing children's identities is questioned. It is suggested that the Assessment Framework restricts practitioners' assessments of children's identities to little more than constrained accounts of any child: thus ignoring the uniqueness of the subject children. It is demonstrated that in using the Assessment Framework, practitioners often struggle to employ their own nuanced knowledge of the subject child. The complexities practitioners encounter in managing the task of assessment is considered. Some practitioners appear to invoke some sense of the fluidity and subjectivity of identities, suggesting an appreciation that there may be many different ways to perceive another. Other practitioners assert some singular and true identity that should be unearthed though the assessment process. More generally, the thesis reveals that practitioners typically construct children's identities within the familiar framework of developmental and object-relational theories. The implications of this for children to be constructed as passive objects, whose identities are seen as more simplistic, less sophisticated than adult identities, is critically examined. The limits and potential of contemporary assessment practices with regard to children's identities is also explored. It is suggested that greater inclusion of the views of parents, carers and subject children in assessment is needed if practitioners are to move away from a constrained re-construction of children's identities and to present instead accounts that more authentically reflect the individual identities of the subject children.