Review : Social Care Learning from Practice edited by Noel Howard & Denise Lyons

 By Charles Sharpe


Social Care Learning from Practice edited by Noel Howard and Denise Lyons, published in Dublin in 2014 by Gill & Macmillan.  ISBN 978 07171 5959 7




 I think this book marks a new stage in Irish social care and in a sense for the community that is Ireland.

To be sure there is a place for evidence-based empiric research but I sometimes feel that those whose field of endeavour is the social care of children, young people, families and adults ought not to be in such thrall of research which coins long words and illustrates its finding with charts with arrows pointing everywhere and tables of numbers validated by some esoteric (for me at least) mathematical formula. Diagrams more than charts and tables are evident in this book but on the whole I found them useful and as I read the book I was never left with any doubt that what is personal and what is relational for and between human beings is what is uppermost. That is saying a lot. I have trudged through many books purporting to be about the essence and the meaning of social care and have so often asked myself, “Where can I find a human being in all this?” This did not happen while I read this book.

Social Care Learning from Practice Social Care is about unique people forming unique relationships often in a unique group living setting. Surely the social care of children is a very personal process where the anecdotal is the most powerful of evidence and is the least likely to de-humanise explanations of the wonderful phenomenon that, for instance, a good relationship between a child and an adult is.

In Social Care Learning From Practice, the editors, Noel Howard and Denise Lyons have succeeded in bringing together a cohesive collection of narratives and analyses of a broad span of experiences, approaches and services. The chapters, written by over 20 practitioners of social care for children, young people and adults, draw insights together and relate practice with theory. At the same time the book is a very good read. The editors have shown fine craft in combining the chapters in a way which this reader experienced as giving the book a natural flow.

It is in a sense a series of parables.– each chapter is in some form a story giving meaning to human experience. Looked at like this one cannot just call it an Irish book for its insights can be universalized to represent all human experience.



It is only in recent years that I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland and I was impressed how seriously and conscientiously the nation, as well as the state, takes its responsibility to care for troubled children and young people, though some may argue that this is a reaction to revelations of the widespread abuse of children and other vulnerable people in institutional care in Ireland since the 1930s.

This book emerges from the vast shadow cast over social care in Ireland following both the reporting of  these events and the findings and recommendations in the reports of the Ryan Commission and the Murphy Commission which investigated the allegations of historic abuse. Historic abuse is an interesting term in that it refers to things that have happened in the past and in a sense distances, and attempts to protect us from the taints of the past practice. Yet will any of us ever feel clear from that ?

At the risk of carrying the guilt of a pontificating, ill-informed outsider who fails to see the more complex picture, my view is that in making such a determined attempt to clear up as much as it can of the tragic fallout from so many Irish children’s experiences of residential care in the past, Ireland now seems determined to develop and sustain a high quality social care service. As Social Care Learning from Practice  so effectively illustrates,  Ireland already has outstanding examples of social care and has  begun to take the opportunity to make a fresh start on the way to building a new social care service untarnished by some of the dreadful aspects of the history of Irish social care.   It  will be a difficult but worthwhile journey  to undertake and I believe Social Care Learning from Practice is a major staging post on the way. This is not deny that social care ever operates in Easy Street. It is by its very nature always problematic.


 The text of the book is cradled first and last between two painfully moving poems by Caroline Coyle, who is a social worker.

The three opening chapters written by the editors provide a context for the book. The first of these “Learning from Stories of Practice” co-authored by the editors considers the value of stories from practice as a method of research. I am already a convert. I believe stories to be the most powerful source of material and the most valid form of research.

In the second chapter Noel Howard provides a thorough history of the vicissitudes of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers from its founding in 1972. It has had a checkered history which is hardly surprisingly given the nature of the story that was unfolding as the horrors of the  abuse of children became more and more apparent.  The situation now is that in recent years the The Irish Association of Social Care Workers has amalgamated with two other bodies, The Irish Association of Social Care Educators and the Residential Managers’ Association and this amalgamation is to some extent reflected in the cross section of the authors of the chapters in the book.

In the next chapter Social Care Education and the Irish Association of Social Educators Denise Lyons writes provides an analysis of Social Care Education in Ireland  and writes a concise history of the Irish Social Care Educators. She is also the first of the many of authors in the book to provide an account of they came to be in the field of social care. This feature perhaps an idea of the editors enriches the books and gives us a further sense of the authors as real people.

“Keith King” is the nom de plume assumed by the author of “There’s no Place like Home : Care and Aftercare.” Keith writes about a chaotic childhood in a large family where physical violence and alcoholism predominated. He tells of how he adapted to his daily life by recognizing signals from his parents’ appearance and demeanour. From how  “they dressed, stood, or even how my mother had her hair brushed.” In always having to respond to other people’s  emotional needs – usually those of parenting figures –  the child develops what Winnicott calls the ‘false self’, King struggled to find an identity of his own. His own ‘true self’ (Winnicott,1965).

In spite of all Keith King still loved his mother and his description of a meeting he attended while in residential care poignantly tells of the extremes of emotional stresses looked after children in residential care endure.

Keith was called into a room to meet with his mother, a social worker and Maurice, his key worker from the residential centre. Keith cannot recall whether there were others in the meeting.

“I remember basically being asked was my mother an alcoholic. I remember the fear, the sadness of this question. I felt I was put in an impossible and traumatizing situation. Yes, my mother was an alcoholic; yes I hated her drunken behaviour; but I loved her deeply, I never wanted to go against my mother, nor did I want to embarrass her in front of these people. Plus I didn’t know whether my statement might result in my younger siblings being taken into care. The weight of that question was so heavy for me as a child I would say it crushed me completely. I gave the social worker the answer he wanted and I remember my mother looking at me disbelief, as much as to say ‘How could you ?’, while at the same time giving excuses for her drinking.” p.45

This is but one vignette of any number that could be drawn from Keith’s story which presents a rich mixture of issues from which social care workers and students alike might gain insight. Before moving on I should say, without making light of his suffering, Keith’s story is a considered one and is duly critical of the aspects of the system he was placed in following his separation from his family, but he is appreciative of the relationship he had with the person who took time to get know him, his key worker at the residential centre, Maurice Fenton, who, as much I think by the editors’ design than coincidence is the author of the next chapter. “The Impossible Task : Which Wolf will Win” examines the notion originally voiced by Richard Balbernie that residential child care is an “impossible task” (Balbernie ,1971). For me at least in this excellent chapter the title though alluring and imaginative is a distraction from what I believe is important about Fenton’s discourse : the significance he places on the relationship between adult and child in a social care setting. His examination of Keith King’s chapter, which Fenton’s chapter follows almost seamlessly upon, makes an excellent syllogism from which emerges the symbiotic mutuality of an adult – child relationship and reveals not only a growing young person striving towards his adult identity but also, if in an indirect way, a social care worker finding his role.

Fenton also provides a compact yet thorough personal view of the role of the key worker within residential care but surely the fundamental summation of his chapter would be that while he owns

‘that behaviour change tools offer complementary programmes,’

for him,

‘the relationship is the key.’ (p.58)

John Digney and Max Smart in their chapter “Doing Small Things with Great Kindness” propose that those many small gestures of engagement are the building blocks of a good relationship. The point they make,it seems to me, is “less rhetorical abstraction and more action.”

Pauline Clarke Orohoe, rightly in my view, complains in her chapter “The Language of Social Care” that the verbiage of social care with its organizational or indeed pseudo-psychological terms distances children from some of the professionals who are notionally trying to help them. Her text harmonises with that of Digney and Smart in the previous chapter. Sometimes even words are not needed, the personal gestures and the little acts of kindness which John Digney and Max Smart write about  can mean as much, if not more, than words.

Recollecting different meetings she and colleagues have attended with families, parents and children Clarke Orohoe accumulates a telling body of evidence which demonstrates how all too often social care workers and social workers cocooned in the safety of their own professional jargon fail to communicate with those they are notionally helping. The worker can present herself almost as if she is a split entity firmly divided between the personal and the professional. Clarke Orohoe reflects

 While attending meetings, I have often been curious about the interactions between various service providers and the families they engage with. I have seen situations where a worker has been regularly engaging with a family member, and yet while they are waiting for a meeting to commence, there has been little or no communication. (p.76)

Experiencing this can do little to lessen an already struggling family’s sense of confusion and isolation.

This kind of split representation of the self by a social care worker is not one to encourage children and families that they are in a relationship in which they are equal though different partners. It can give the impression that the exercise of power predominates over the exercise of sincere concern. It is one which has the subtext, “I am the professional providing a service which is available to you if you wish to take it.”

It is this subtext that often worries me about family assessment which is the subject of the Angela Feeney’s chapter, “An Approach to Family Assessment.”   Children must be safeguarded from all forms of abuse and if there are fears for a child in his family home, then it will be necessary to assess what is going on in that family but I do have some reservations, about the way these assessments are carried out. My fear is, and this has been informed by my time as a psychotherapist during which over a period years I have met with a number of parents who are struggling bravely and I think to good enough effect to keep their families together. I can see that they need practical support but they have a fear of approaching the social services because they believe – and I have to say sometimes with justification – that social services are there to condemn them rather than support them. They fear that their children will be taken from them. For me then there is a trace of the sinister about the notion of “family assessment.”  Whatever we might say about professional objectivity one can’t escape the feeling the attitude workers sometimes show towards those who are struggling, should not, however unintended it is, be represented by one strand of the assessor’s thought that runs, “I am here because I know more about families than you do and though my family may not be perfect it is better than yours”. I hoped in Angela Feeney’s chapter I would read about how these effects might be neutralized . As I began to read on, feelings of optimism were stirred : for instance the kind of assessment being advocated occurred in the family home. However I soon I found myself being distanced by sentences like

“ ‘Home-based systemic ecological assesssments’ is a term used to describe assessment that encompass all aspects of family life to create a comprehensive overview of environmental factors, social integration,childhood development,family dynamics and functioning and parenting capacity.” p.81

Later, in what was a topsy-turvy read, my hopes were alive again as I perused the following case study. I was initially impressed with the flexibility – or it might be said the adaptation to particular circumstances – of the approach and then became depressed as failure and any sense of humankind was masked in a strange jargon. As a reader I became once again detached from the text rather than engaged with it. I quote the case study in full.

‘In relation to the change process I will note one particular case where the foster placement of a male teenager had broke down, and because of a lack of foster placements, and his age, there was a possibility that he might be placed in a residential unit. The teenager’s father had a long history of problematic alcohol misuse. This hadn’t improved since the placement of the teenager in care two years previously; however, the father gave an undertaking that he would address his difficulties and the teenager was returned with in-home support offered by the assessment and intervention service. The placement at home was fraught with difficulties as neither party had been prepared for this unexpected transition. The father didn’t engage with an alcohol treatment service and the difficulties that had been apparent prior to the foster care quickly resurfaced. The family clearly hadn’t been at the precontemplation, the contemplation or the preparation stage. This example illustrates the reality of the demands on families to engage and the reliance of services on families playing their part.’ p87

I was left to wonder why there was no comment about the failure of the various services to prepare and intensify their support. Of course they may not have had the time or resources to do so, but then why make the promises ? This is the criticism struggling parents often express to me. Promises of support are broken by would be supportive services and yet it is the parents upon whom the blame for failure is projected. Feeney does briefly acknowledge this when she writes about using ‘change theory’ to inform family assessments.

‘ This clear cut theory and ideology that services adapt their interventions to match readiness is logical and client-centred, but in the reality of child protection and welfare-oriented family work it is not always possible.”p86

Given the tenor of the preceding chapters I was left to ask myself where was the kind gesture in this, and where is the inclusive language, but this may be unfair on an author who makes it clear that family assessment meetings should be held in order to

‘engender a sense of collaboration with the family, a sense of working together.’ p.87

Despite my quibbles Angela Feeney has in my view written a brilliant and comprehensive dissemination of an ecological and systemic way of considering the family which reinforces a truth we all too often forget : that all families are members of a community and the relationship between family and community should be a mutual supportive one.

Aofe Killeen’s “Achieving Independent Living for People with Disabilities” is at once an erudite yet personal piece. Killeen provides an historical context to her work and from what follows this the reader is soon aware of her commitment  –  informed by her practical experience  –  to the project of creating an environment where people with disabilities can achieve independence. Nonetheless she is aware of the obstacles – such as economic cutbacks – which stand in the way of achieving her and her colleagues’ goal and so she believes it important to be involved in the development of policy.

Killeen demonstrates the current mismatch between policy and what is currently actually achievable. She describes the wider environment of her work, and its limitations.

She concludes her chapter by proposing a model of transition for independent living in the community which is underpinned by the principle that social care workers should remember that

‘they are not nurses and that the greatest strength of a social care worker is to stand back and discover what a person can do for themselves.’ pp.106/107

 This might be a useful mantra for those working across all areas of social care.

Killeen also mentions the foibles of her work. One of these is never to mention the D word.

The D word, dementia, is in large part the subject matter of the following poignantly entitled chapter “Stranger in the Mirror : Dealing with Dementia in the intellectual disability sector” The author Iseult Paul echoes Aofi Killeen’s observation that the D word is avoided though neither author gave me a convincing explanation of why this should be.

Paul’s chapter is an affecting personal account of her work with those who suffer from memory loss. She focuses on the importance of the relationship between the worker and the client in this field of work and describes how she overcomes the obstacles which get in the way of forming a relationship. She does not theorise about developing relationships but while remarking that working with people with memory issues can be emotionally stressful, throughout Paul describes practical actions and ideas which are helpful indicators as how relationships may be sustained, but like the description which follows here, my contention is that they show that relationships workers have with those who suffer from memory loss may have different constituents than the relationships carers in other fields have with those they support, for instance, for those who have relationships with children and young people.

‘Reassurance and distraction are tools that are very useful in supporting individuals with memory loss. If an individual with considerable memory loss asks a question asks a question and you know the answer is going to cause distress, it is best to be a little creative with the answer.’ p.117

Frank Mulville in “It’s all about The ‘I’ : Self-understanding in Social Care Practice” suggests that in his role as a social care worker with children that he has learnt most about what he does from the children and from his interaction, engagement and relationship with the them and from how they can make him feel. In so doing he becomes able to adapt and change his  practice. Mulville indirectly acknowledges that his ideas are informed by phenomena which psychodynamic theorists call transference, counter-transference, projection and introjection.

He concedes that he has also learnt from colleagues and from himself through reflective discussion, and self-reflection.

Melville provides two pertinent illustrative vignettes to demonstrate his insights though the outcomes are not always, in my experience, as neat as his examples.

It was at this stage in reading Social Care Learning from Practice I became aware of being discreetly guided into what I would describe as “approach mode” territory and there followed a number of chapters which describe different theoretical approaches to social care and they are all excellent and informative chapters which I strongly advise all students and workers in the field to read and gain from but my anxiety is that sometimes I think social care workers can become slaves to a theory to the extent that they almost manualise it and depend on it when of course, as this book trumpets so loudly throughout, it is the individuality of the child or adult who is being supported and the individuality of the social care worker and the strength of the unique relationships which they form that is much more important than any theory or practice manual. These may be helpful to jolt our thinking when needed but it is the symbiosis of the unique relationships which helps people grow. At least this is what I think I understood when I reflected back to Keith King’s chapter.

Reflecting on how he works as a social worker Derek O’Donnell in “Precious Cargo : Focusing as a Practice Approach” proposes that in working with children, the “precious cargo” of the title, we should use Eugene Gendlin’s idea of “focusing.” This approach seems to have elements of humanist and person-centred therapy. Certainly there is an accent on listening, staying with feelings, body sensations and symbolism. O’Donnell helpfully provides a number of case studies to show the efficacy of Gendlin’s six step process which O’Donnell has adapted into a circle of six pointers that has at its centre the notion

‘Holding a quality of gentle presence for the child.’ p.133 (taken from Figure 12.5)

and two examples,  O’Donnell’s six pointers are :

‘Let the child talk about the problem or situation.’

 ‘Notice if there is a shift or difference in the body – and stay with this.’ p.133 (taken from Figure 12.5)

 There are echoes of Margo Waddell’s great paper “Living in Two Worlds : Psychodynamic Theory and Social Work Practice” (Waddell, 1985) in Des Mooney’s “Waiting : Avoiding the Temptation to Jump In.” In her paper Waddell suggested that a problem for social workers was that they are always expected to be doing something whereas a therapist can let things be. Her point was that sometimes it is more therapeutic to let things be than to be doing something.

Mooney implies , referring to Winnicott’s thinking, that to be able to let things wait we should create a holding environment and this traditionally has been the basis of residential care of children in therapeutic communities.

The guiding tenet of Mooney’s chapter is I believe “Wait until the child is ready.”

Here readers are deep into a psychodynamic part of the book with mention of the holding environment in the previous chapter and now containment. Moira O’Sullivan reminds us in “Containment : Not Always a Dirty Word” and that though in the past many have considered the idea of containing children as way of physically containing them by sending them to a residential home so far away from their own communities in order to make sure they won’t run away.

O’Sullivan is more interested in emotional containment when absorbing verbal and sometimes emotional abuse from children. Winnicott (1961)  would say that it is the children who shout and scream the most for whom you should hold out the greatest hope as they are the ones who know unconsciously that at some time earlier in their lives they have had something that was good enough, that was promised to them for ever, something they cherished, and now it’s lost or been taken away and they are screaming out because they want to find it again. Yet their behaviour all too often results in their ejection from placements and it is these children which I believe O’Sullivan is in the main writing about. For her caring for these children is a very sophisticated, yet emotionally charged task. Using helpful case studies to explain how she and her colleagues work, along with concepts like projective identification and other phenomena explained in psychodynamic terms, O’Sullivan successfully communicates her well-considered and reflective approach to the social care of children.

 In “Placing Therapeutic Relationships at the Heart of our Work “ Laura Behan offers an finely developed narrative and analysis (the latter mainly underpinned by psychodynamic thinking) of her relationship with Sarah a young woman who was placed in the therapeutic community where Behan worked. Behan later became Sarah’s keyworker.

She goes on to describe the pressure and the expectation which this relationship placed upon her and tells of Sarah’s development through it,  but this chapter, like a number in this book is a good story. I won’t spoil it for you.

 Another psychodynamic concept, the therapeutic alliance, is subject of the next chapter, “The Therapeutic Alliance in Practice.” Helen Buggles characterizes this alliance as having three different elements :

“1.the contract

2.the aims of therapeutic work

  1. the relationship” p.173

This structured way of considering the therapeutic alliance does not rest easily with my own view of it which sees it is as more organic but that counts for nothing. What is important is what works for a young person and for Buggles and her colleagues.

One source Buggles uses in developing her discourse is the writing of the psychotherapist David Smail who sadly died earlier this year. Smail was always more concerned about the therapeutic relationship – the alliance – than the theory behind it. For him if the relationship worked the therapy worked. I read Buggles as coming from a similar school of thought.

I found Niall Reynolds chapter “ A house for One : Single-occupancy Residential Units : Further Isolation or a Progressive Response” a personally poignant one. I was once involved in setting up a single occupancy residential project for a young man who was at risk in many different ways. In providing the service we were able to keep him safe for six months. Some of  his behaviours which had made him vulnerable had ceased or lessened to a great extent. However it was a very expensive venture to operate and the local authority which was funding the project  seeing the improvement in the young man’s behaviour suggested that this indicated he could now be moved into what was called a “professional foster care placement.” When we advised against this we were made aware that our project could no longer be funded and the young  was placed in foster care. His foster carers were a dedicated partnership but the placement broke down within weeks when the young man absconded from their care. It was clear to us that while we had kept him safe he had nevertheless been very isolated and we had not sufficiently as yet prepared  him sufficiently to return to a life in the wider community.

Reynolds detailed and compelling narrative of the relationships he and his colleagues had with the boy they were looking after implies an approach to single occupancy residential care that anticipated and mitigated the difficulties we faced.

 David Williams argues that self-harm (a term I have used on many occasions) is not the right descriptor for what he writes about in “Supporting Those Who Self-Injure in Care Settings.” Some might argue that this is mere semantics but in this informative chapter Wiiliams makes a sensitive point persuasively. This chapter offered a clear explication of a complex subject and it is further informed by upsetting yet revealing anecdotal evidence.

With Marguerita Walsh’s “An A,B,C Approach to Challenging Behaviour : A Reflective Tool for Service Users and Social Care”  we move now into what I would describe as a more manualised part of the book. By this I mean that a written script – a manual  –  is offered and if the script is followed, a particular positive outcome will be achieved. I am critical of this type of approach. I think by separating out one behaviour in a person we are only dealing with a part-person and not the whole person. Be sure of this however, I am in the minority here, as the Cognitive Behaviourist Therapy Army day by day grows and attempts to wipe out all before it. There are of course political and economic reasons for this but that’s for another day.

Walsh provides very useful practical ideas for social care workers and students which I am sure will be welcomed. Dealing with aggressive behaviour can be frightening and guides like this can often provide at least temporary  reassurance to inexperienced workers.

I am encouraged when the author qualifies her section entitled,


with the opening sentence :

It must first be highlighted that there is “no one size fits all” approach to addressing incidents of challenging behaviour ; each situation and client is different.’ p.215

 In “Learning to Practise: The Role of Practice Placement in Social Care” Lillian Byrne-Lancaster emphasizes the importance of structure, preparation and reducing  students’ anxiety in placement practice learning. She constructively clarifies the difference between the role of practice placement student supervisor and the role of the placement tutor. My experience has been that sometimes students  fall between these two stools. This is the “ I thought you were going to do that’ syndrome.”

Byrne-Lancaster buoyed me with optimism for the future when I read,

‘Overriding all these meanings of placement is the professional desire to guide a new generation of social care workers towards ethical, client-centred practice. After all social care is a profession aimed at helping people who need additional support to live the best life they can and to advocate for and with them when budgets, social policy and political ideologies may hinder this basic human right’. p.230

 The contribution of Claire Leonard  “Supporting a team to Direct and Lead change in Social Care” considers the role teamwork plays in a service’s capacity to deal with change. She describes her experience of managing of a social care team over nine years and how they functioned at a time of significant change. The key issues she identifies for supporting and leading a team in such circumstance are : the use of training in developing the team’s skills and in holding the team together, helping staff work through their fear of change was , and  encouraging staff to lead and direct change because it is always ongoing.

 In “Supervision a Reflective Guide” Fiona Doyle offers a succinct description of the major elements of supervision. At the top of the list of the purposes of supervision she places the worker’s responsibility to be clear about her role and responsibilities. Second in the list is the requirement that the worker meets the agency’s objective. Lagging behind in third place is the responsibility to provide a quality service to the client. Am I alone in wondering why having a responsibility to make sure the client’s needs are met is not at the top of this list ? I don’t hold the author to account for this because I believe she is representing what most caring organisations demand from supervision.

I admire Doyle’s stance on seeing supervision as process of reflective learning and her belief that supervision should not be seen as a process for dealing with weakness but as a positive force in the worker’s professional development.

The following chapter “The Significance of the Small Things : teaching Independent Living Skills to Young People in Residential Care” is the story of a successful project which the author Kathy D’Arcy and her colleagues initiated in a residential centre for older boys preparing to move into supported lodgings. The aim was to help them develop skills which they would need out in the wider community. Among other things these included budgeting by using the calculators on their mobile ‘phones, shopping, preparing meals, changing bedding and doing the laundry. D’Arcy found that this engendered a spirit of cooperation among the group of boys and staff. I think the latter is significant for it always puzzles me that an ‘independence’ skill often left out of the curriculum is understanding that human beings need other human beings and that learning about being interdependent is something which deserves consideration.

 Paddy Ormond shares his “Thoughts on the Good Enough Worker.” He describes the concept as a take on Donald Winnicott’s notion of the “good-enough mother” This was a very helpful idea for mothers anxious about being able to look after their newborn infants well enough. Winnicott said that mothers did not have to be perfect for they mostly knew what their babies needed and they did not need to be perfect all they needed to be was good-enough. Children brought by a notionally ‘perfect’ mother would find coping with the ups and downs of life difficult.   In some ways Winnicott’s good-enough notion can be a helpful model for the social care worker but as I’ve argued elsewhere (Sharpe, 2010) it may not be the whole story because social care workers tend to work with children for whom the good-enough caring process has broken down at a vital stage and so perhaps social care workers have to provide in some way or other that very primitive kind of relationship  –  that is evident in those first few weeks following a baby’s birth  –  between  infant and  mother.

At the end of his chapter Ormond provides a number of useful ideas for practice that promotes the approach he is espousing. I hope he will go on to reflect on his thoughts and further develop these ideas.

John Molloy concludes this outstanding  and remarkable book with his chapter “The Good Manager: Moral Discernment and Courage” which offers wise reflection on the vicissitudes of management.

He proposes  a number of issues which social care workers, students and managers should ponder for the future.

Here are just few of the issues I have adduced from reading John Molloy’s text.

Children, young people and relatively inexperienced adults can be wise and inspiring.

Sometimes in human relationships there is not an evidence base available to inform action. Spontaneity is needed in unique situations.

We dwell on the negative aspects of a human being for too long.

Situational conundrums  arise in social care which will not be resolved by any amount of management training.

It is inevitable that as a manager you will have to deal with ‘the corrupting, subversive element in an organization that cannot easily be identified’

A social care manager can only meet the needs of the children or adults she and her staff team are helping if she, the manager holds a ‘moral discernment’ that drives her courage to be herself. This is what helps her make decisions that feel authentic and are right for the resource she manages.




Social Care Learning from Practice is a astounding undertaking and is a tapestry of all the riches which exist in the practice, thinking, learning and insight that is put into social care in Ireland. Yet it is not just a book for Ireland. It should be read by social care workers and students wherever they are.


Charles Sharpe, Totnes, 2014



Balbernie, R. (1971) “The Impossible Task” in Fees, C.(1990) Residential Experience   Birmingham Association of Workers for Maladjusted Children p107

Sharpe,C. (2010) “Love and hate in good enough residential child care” in Writings accessed at  on 14.12.14

Waddell, M.(1985) “Living in Two Worlds : Psychodynamic Theory and Social Work Practice” in Free Associations Vol 10

Winnicott, D.W. (1961) “Varieties of Psychotherapy” collected in Home is where we start from  : essays by a psychoanalyst.  1986  Harmondsworth. Penguin pp103-111