Review : leading good care THE TASK, HEART AND ART OF MANAGING SOCIAL CARE by John Burton



Review : leading good care THE TASK, HEART AND ART OF MANAGING SOCIAL CARE by John Burton, published in 2015 in London and Philadelphia by Jessicca Kingsley. £25.00  ISBN   978 1 84905 551 2      eISBN 978 0 85700 985 2

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Review by Charles Sharpe


Why review a book about the social care of adults in a journal principally concerned with the upbringing of children and young people?  John Burton, the author of this book gives us the answer in an article he permitted us to publish in the goodenoughcaring Journal some years ago.

But the therapeutic care provided in good children’s homes is not essentially any different from the care provided in good homes for adults (of all ages). All care comes through person-to-person relationships whether it’s for a child, a teenager, an adult with learning disabilities, or an eighty-five-year-old with dementia  (John Burton, 2007).

 Some might argue John Burton is one of a very few qualified to make the statement cited above. Since 1965, he has had a distinguished career as a practitioner, manager, consultant, teacher, and trainer in residential child care. He is also a respected journalist, author and commentator on all aspects of ‘care.’ Of course this may not necessarily mean that he is always right, so let’s take a look at his new book.

 My view is that leading good care THE TASK, HEART AND ART OF MANAGING SOCIAL CARE can usefully bring fresh insights to those engaged in leading and managing child, youth and family care resources just as it clearly does for those leading and managing adult care resources. This book should also allow those engaged mainly with children and young people, space for healthy reflection and consideration of their own task, by making links to find the common aspects of the care of children and the care of adults. It is surely important too that we do not limit our interests in care solely to children, after all most of us hope that we are all in life for the long haul and surely it is this hope, this optimism  which most of us are fortunate to be provided with in our childhood that, in large measure, gives us a capacity to care.

In the back cover blurb, the publishers maintain that in leading good care, managers must have a personal authority, a clear understanding of the core task and the emotional challenges of care, along with the imagination to create an organization or team dedicated to meeting people’s needs. The publishers’ claim is that leading good care achieves these things by cutting through ‘the obstructions of red tape and procedures to focus on task, role and practice. Managers will discover in this book understanding, inspiration, confidence and the authority to better lead their service.’

I think this book fulfils these claims and a great deal more besides. Each chapter explores, discusses and illustrates an aspect of care, including, among others : care in its wider context, the core task of care, what lies beneath the surface in care, issues of boundary and how a service interacts with its environment, and of course the manager as leader. All these construct and put flesh upon a comprehensive curriculum for leadership and management in care settings. The author’s ideas are imaginatively and effectively delivered and developed throughout the book by a series of stories from four different services, led by four different managers. The four services are a home care service, a local residential resource engaged closely with its community, a multi-use community resource centre (a hub), and a therapeutic community within its local community. For readers seeking to widen experience through reading, the insights offered of the different issues which are raised in different services are enriching and emphasise how unique problems require unique solutions. At the end of each chapter the content is reinforced by suggestions for discussion, and, throughout the text – unusually in my experience – there are helpful illustrations and diagrams which actually look organic and have a connection to human endeavour.

It is difficult to do justice to leading good care THE TASK, HEART AND ART OF MANAGING SOCIAL CARE , for it is a book which, in laying out the fundamentals and values at the core of good leadership and management practice, does so much more that it says on the cover. It should be read by leaders and managers, by students and teachers of leadership and managers, but most importantly by all practitioners in care settings who are interested in what is at the heart of care. Everyone who works in a care setting is at different times required to be a leader and a manager.


With so much to explore and reflect upon in this book it was difficult to isolate a few of the ideas which have exercised this reader’s reflection. I’ve chosen two. The first of these are systems.

The author’s preface to this book, “Driving a bus and leading social care” is subtitled “An introduction to systems thinking” p20-21). The reader is immediately aware of the author’s  ironic sense of humour (which he exercises from time to time with good effect throughout the text) but also that systems are important to him. The introductory chapter contains sections  such as “Creating a systems model” and “Building systems of care from the core task outwards”. Burton describes the systems which are consciously created and those which develop without conscious intention but it becomes clear that he finds systems useful only when they are servants of the core task and not its master. Humanity rules. It is, he points out, “only a model; it is a concept, an illustration; it’s not the real thing. It is also a hypothesis set out as a means of exploring reality”(p21). This will come as a relief to those who have experienced the human damage wrought where systems are presented as something to be adhered to and to be complied with. A community may be modelled as a system and we are refreshingly reminded of something too frequently lost in the frenzy of day to day life :  a care service is an ‘integral part of its neighbourhood, community and locality, and it also exists in the wider social cultural, political and economic context’ (p29). It is possible to argue that if this had been worked upon as tenaciously as Gita the manager of The Limes does in the book, the incidences of unspeakable practices, evidenced in recent times in care homes somehow  ‘isolated’ even though they were situated in the middle of their communities, may well have not occurred.

Burton explores the tensions which can occur between the manager of a service who, though clear about her care home’s core task, may find that her employers are not so clear about aspects of it, or indeed do not wish to acknowledge them particularly when they may negatively impact on profit. When a manager succumbs to the pressures of  such an employer the core task is corrupted. Such was the infamous case at Winterbourne View where the adults being ‘cared’ for were abused and tortured. The author points out that the external authorities ’who had oversight and responsibility for the care of the people living there was to impose ‘more of the measures and practices that had already failed to protect the residents of Winterbourne View.’  This is another example of care authorities failing to understand that groups of people living and working together with the right kind of encouragement learn better, just as individuals do, from within.

You need to be set free now to read this book yourself. I would have liked to have discussed other notions of the author, about compliance, about failure demand, about clients running and evaluating their own services and so many other things, but I’ll settle on a truism. Truisms are thought trite but how often, when we seem  for a time to have forgotten one, we find ourselves pleased to be reminded of it. This one is from the text of  this superb and original book and I believe it flows gently all the way through it. Those stepping up to leadership, the subject of the book’s final chapter, might consider these words from earlier in the text and what they mean for them.

“You can’t lead social care if your heart’s not in it. You came into this work because you believed that, at some time in our lives, we all need help and support from others that is more than can be given and therefore we need a care system”   (p117.)



Burton, J. “Care is Therapy” in The Caring Times April, 2007 This article can be accessed at

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