Becoming a critical social work practitioner
Becoming a critical social work practitioner

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Becoming a critical social work practitioner

3.3 What to do about Sarah?

Activity 6

1 hour 45 minutes

Read the Case Study ‘Sarah's story: What to do about Sarah [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Keep in mind the analyses used in the previous reading, pay careful attention to the language being used and note down some responses to the following questions:

  1. What is your analysis of what is being said by John and Sarah to each other?

  2. What is your analysis of the interactions between Sarah and her mother?

  3. How would you sum up John's obligations towards Sarah – legal and otherwise?

  4. To what extent can John take account of Sarah's stated wish for him not to intervene but just to ‘be there’?

  5. What do you judge to be the potential for Sarah and Karen, as service users, to have influence in this situation? In what ways would you try to maximise this?

Once you have answered these questions, you may wish to share your answers with others studying this course by posting them in the Comments section below.


As with the previous reading, there can be a difference between the information that is being presented and a more in-depth analysis. Here are some questions that occurred to us:

  • What point is John making in the car about risks? Concerns about Sarah are the reason for his involvement – but he is equally aware of the risks to both him and his employing agency. ‘Pointing the finger’ expresses a lot about a perceived culture of blame where social services are concerned. ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don't’ is a phrase that expresses the dilemmas of whether, and how to, intervene in social work situations.

  • We had different responses to how Sarah appears as a 14-year-old girl who has been involved with social services from the age of twelve. Some thought that she seemed much older than her age; others thought that she seemed much younger. In some respects then, Sarah's actual age may be less relevant than an assessment of her overall development as a young person.

  • What were your responses to the parent–child interactions between Sarah and her mother? An analysis of parental authority might suggest that, on the evidence of this interaction, the normal power relationship had been inverted. We felt that there could be many implications for the ability to effectively work ‘in partnership’ in a voluntary arrangement in this situation.

  • Finally, what did you think about John's communication with Sarah? We thought it had many elements of ‘best practice’ as set out by Cooper (2008) in the previous reading. John expressed his concerns very openly whilst giving the clear message that he couldn't just go away and that ‘other steps’ could still be taken in the future. In doing this, he was gently confrontational and yet sensitively responsive to Sarah within the dialogue whilst leaving open the door for further work.


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