Research into social work and child protection has begun to observe practice to find out what social workers actually do, however no such ethnographic research has been done into long-term practice. This paper outlines and analyses the methods used in a study of long-term social work and child protection practice. Researchers spent 15 months embedded in two social work departments observing organisational practices, culture, and staff supervision. We also regularly observed social worker’s encounters with children and families in a sample of 30 cases for up to a year, doing up to 21 observations of practice in the same cases. Family members were also interviewed up to three times during that time. The paper argues that a methodology that gets as close as possible to practitioners and managers as they are doing the work and that takes a longitudinal approach can provide deep insights into what social work practice is, how helpful relationships with service users are established and sustained over time, or not, and the influence of organizations. The challenges and ethical dilemmas involved in doing long term research that gets so close to social work teams, casework and service users for up to a year are considered.
- long-term social work practice
- qualitative longitudinal research
- child protection
- mobile methods
- participant observation
- organisational culture