Child Intervention Research Forum – Cracker Barrel Presentation – Anne Marie McLaughlin

Exploring the Role of Social Justice in Child Welfare Practice This presentation explores the link between social work training with an emphasis on social justice and good child welfare practice. The role of social justice within child welfare practice has not been well examined. Though social work codes of ethics identify social justice as a primary mission of social work, there is much debate about what social justice is. Social workers within child welfare work on behalf of marginalized and vulnerable populations yet are frequently uncertain about how to translate this core professional responsibility into practice. Child welfare work focuses on vulnerable populations, is grounded in notions of social care, and is inextricably linked to social justice through its association with power and resource inequity. Individuals receiving services from child welfare systems often encounter complex social justice issues concerning human and cultural rights, access to resources, powerlessness, marginalization, inequity, and poverty. Our research examined the idea of and the practice of social justice within the context of child welfare. We interviewed 25 social workers with at least 6 months front line child protection experience who have ether a bachelor or a master’s degree in social work (N=25) across two provinces, Ontario and Alberta. We asked them about the concept of social justice and to reflect on how they may see this embraced with in a child welfare practice environment. Data was analyzed according to grounded theory methods. Our emergent core category “becoming social justice focused” explains how a social justice focus within child welfare practice either can be strengthened or stifled. The research also identified additional contributing factors such as prior characteristics, educational training, and reflective practice that impact a social justice informed practice. We are working on models that can be used to enhance the integration of social justice values and front-line CW practice.

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