The ten papers in this issue continue our practice of presenting a varied mix of articles, on this occasion focusing on both qualitative and quantitative research in child and family social work, mental health, disability and two theoretical papers providing, first, a critical look at the contribution of the work of Jurgen Habermas to social work and, second, a discussion concerning the language of social work. While, as is usual for the British Journal of Social Work, most papers have UK authorship, international representation is achieved by contributions from Australia, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden and the USA.

In ‘Negotiating foster families: Identification and desire’, Damien Riggs, Paul Delfabbro and Martha Augoustinos report on a psycho-analytically oriented study drawing on individual interviews and focus groups to explore the experiences of Australian foster-carers. This research offers pointers to counter the present difficulties in foster-care, which are evident in many countries in addition to Australia, characterized by an increasing number of children in foster-care with highly complex needs, a high number of short-term placements, children moving in and out of the foster-care system on a regular basis and the difficulty in ensuring long-term placement stability. The research suggests that foster-carers' wishes to claim a family identity for themselves should be recognized and legitimated and foster-care promoted as ‘family-based care’.

Pia Tham and Gabrielle Meagher investigate the reasons for staff recruitment and retention problems experienced by child welfare agencies in Sweden, drawing on a large-scale survey of child welfare social workers' and other public sector human services professionals' perceptions of their work and working conditions. ‘Working in human services: How do experiences and working conditions in child welfare social work compare?’ reveals that while social workers generally, and social workers in child welfare services in particular, recognize positive elements in their work, what they do was perceived as especially demanding as regards the complexity of the work, high workloads and the quality of management. However, what impacts most on social workers' motivation to leave are perceptions of management's insufficient regard to workers' needs and well-being. Tham and Meagher conclude that the research shows that staff retention could be enhanced if employers showed increased awareness of social workers' vulnerabilities, offered more support, reduced their work pressures and demonstrated evidence of valuing the work they do.

An overview of management and leadership in English residential child-care facilities and their relationship to resource use and outcomes for young people is provided by Leslie Hicks, Ian Gibbs, Helen Weatherly and Sarah Byford in ‘Management, leadership and resources in children's homes: What influences outcomes in residential child-care settings?’. The paper is based on a Department of Health-funded study involving forty-five local authority and independent sector children's homes. Key findings from the study indicate that the less expensive facilities are no less successful in achieving good outcomes for children and young people in their care than the more expensive ones and that successful care home leadership combines both attention to the individual needs of children and young people and recognition of the group as ‘a core asset’.

‘Exploring the impact of parental drug/alcohol problems on children and parents in a Midlands county in 2005/2006’, by Claire Fraser, Annie McIntyre and Martin Manby, investigates the impact of parent/carer substance use on children in their care and implications for service provision using semi-structured interviews with substance-using parents/carers and their children. The study highlights the resilience of many children living in such families and recognition by the majority of participant parents/carers of their need for help for their substance use—which a number had sought out. The desire to be caring parents was found to operate as a strong motivator to stop their substance use and the study demonstrates that at least some families can provide ‘good enough’ care for children if parents and carers are given sufficient support to tackle their substance use.

The fifth paper in this issue, ‘Questioning Habermasian social work: A note on some alternative theoretical resources’, continues a debate, originally initiated in the British Journal of Social Work in 2007 (Hayes and Houston, 2007), on the contribution made to social work by philosopher, Jurgen Habermas. In the current paper, Paul Michael Garrett argues that Habermas's failure to acknowledge the complexity of power differentials limits the application of his work for social work and that alternative theoretical analyses of power relationships that may be helpful for social workers are provided by other social theorists, such as Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Mikhail Bakhtin and Antonio Gramsci.

Jill Manthorpe, Joan Rapaport and Nicky Stanley report on a small qualitative study investigating the impact for service users and their carers of the provisions of the 2005 Mental Capacity Act for planning care and treatment and for making advance decisions. Their paper, ‘Expertise and experience: People using services and carers’ views on the 2005 Mental Capacity Act', points to the diverse needs of users and carers that social workers will need to take into account if the potential of the Act for enhancing increased choice and empowerment is to be achieved.

‘The effect of crisis resolution and home treatment on assessments under the 1983 Mental Health Act: An increased workload for Approved Social Workers?’, by Elaine Furminger and Martin Webber, is based on the first author's postgraduate research, drawing on an analysis of Mental Health Act (MHA) assessments undertaken both before and after the introduction of a Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment (CRHT) team. (Incidentally, this paper provides a good example of how good-quality student research can be re-worked for publication in a peer-reviewed journal—and we welcome more manuscripts of this nature.) The study explores the factors behind the apparent failure of the introduction of round-the-clock CRHT teams to reduce recourse to compulsory MHA provisions to ensure appropriate treatment for people with mental health problems. This failure was attributed to poor understanding of the role of the Approved Social Worker (ASW) by CRHT team members and poor communications between CRHT teams and ASWs. The authors advocate increasing integration of Approved Mental Health Practitioners (the successor to ASWs) into CRHT teams as a means of facilitating improved communications, more effective decision making and reducing unnecessary compulsory hospital admissions.

‘Individual Budgets: Lessons from early users’ experiences', by Parvaneh Rabiee, Nicola Moran and Caroline Glendinning, investigates service users' experiences of Individual Budgets, a new ‘cash-for-care’ scheme designed to facilitate personalized support for disabled people and other users of social care services. Although study participants were small in number, they included Individual Budget users with physical/sensory impairments, learning difficulties and mental health problems. The study revealed that the Individual Budget scheme has the capacity to realize its objectives by offering increased flexibility, choice and control compared to existing forms of support. However, in its current form, it may not be suitable for service users with high specialist support needs or for service users who prefer not to have responsibility for their support arrangements. Realizing the full potential of Individual Budgets requires changes in both organizational culture and in routine practices on the part of service providers to ensure an ‘individualized and outcomes-focused approach’.

Colleen Vojak, of the University of Illinois, provides an analysis of language use in social work in ‘Choosing language: Social service framing and social justice’. Drawing on John Rawls' theory of distributive justice, Vojak argues that traditional social service language is located within an ideology that discounts the structural oppressions that disempower service users, and simply views them as both the cause and potential solution to their problems. Such language is stigmatizing and compromises effective problem resolution. Vojak identifies the strategic position occupied by social work to promote social justice and the important role of appropriate normalizing and inclusive language in helping to combat stigma and other barriers and to promote a fairer society. We have selected this paper as the ‘editors’ choice' for this issue because we think that it has major implications for all social workers, wherever they practise and with whichever service user group(s) they work.

The final paper in this issue, although authored by Patrick O'Leary and Nick Gould from the University of Bath in the UK, reports on a large-scale study of Australian male survivors of childhood sexual assault. Disconcertingly, ‘Men who were sexually abused in childhood and subsequent suicidal ideation: Community comparison, explanations and practice implications’ indicates that men who have been sexually abused as children were up to ten times more likely than men in a general community sample to report suicidal ideation. The assault survivors appeared especially vulnerable in terms of self-blame, social isolation, lack of worth, internally and externally directed hostility, penetrative abuse and physical injury sustained from the abuse. The key message from this research is that social workers and other mental health professionals need to be especially vigilant concerning the long-term psychological risks associated with sexual abuse of boys.

We hope that readers will find this mix of papers of interest. We always welcome readers' feedback on the papers we publish. This can range from simple e-mails to a ‘full-length’ comment, such as is shown in this issue's paper by Paul Michael Garrett.


“Lifeworld”, “system” and family group conferences: Habermas's contribution to discourse in child protection
British Journal of Social Work
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