The nature and culture of social work with children and families in long‐term casework: findings from a qualitative longitudinal study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Lisa Warwick
  • Jadwiga Leigh
  • Liz Beddoe
  • Tom Disney

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Auckland
  • Northumbria University Newcastle
  • Lancaster University


Social work in the United Kingdom is preoccupied with what social workers cannot do due to having limited time to spend with service users. Yet remarkably little research has examined what social workers actually do, especially in long‐term relationships. This paper draws from an ethnographic study of two social work departments in England that spent 15 months observing practice and organizational life. Our findings show that social work some of the time has a significant amount of involvement with some service users and the dominant view that relationship‐based practice is rarely achieved is in need of some revision. However, families at one research site received a much more substantial, reliable overall service due to the additional input of family support workers and having a stable workforce who had their own desks and were co‐located with managers in small team offices. This generated a much more supportive, reflective culture for social workers and service users than at the second site, a large open plan “hot‐desking” office. Drawing on relational, systemic, and complexity theories, the paper shows how the nature of what social workers do and culture of practice are shaped by the interaction between available services, office designs, and practitioners', managers', and service users' experiences of relating together.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)694-703
Number of pages10
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Issue number3
Early online date13 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • child protection, children and families, family support, home visits, organizational culture, social work, ethnographic research