5 books every front-line social worker should read in 2022 to make better decisions, build effective relationships, and improve the lives of children and families.

By Richard Devine, Social Worker for Bath and North East Somerset Council

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These are five books that have profoundly influenced my social work practice. These books have been selected for their practical usefulness in our endeavor to be better, more effective social workers. I have not listed them in rank order. I am going to share one every day this week.

1. Working with Denied Child Abuse by Andrew Turnell and Susie Essex (2006)

One line review: A highly practical, accessible book that provides tools and a framework to effectively work with parents in cases of denied child abuse. 

Working with ‘Denied’ Child Abuse can be purchased here.

What I learned from this book: I read this book relatively early in my social work journey, and it completely transformed my approach to working with parents. The ideas, for me at least, were revolutionary and almost counterintuitive. Turnell and Essex explain that we often spend excessive time caught up in denial disputes as social workers. Denial disputes involve the parents denying or minimizing the seriousness of the concerns, while we attempt to disprove them and encourage them to accept our concerns. This is done under the understandable yet, misguided notion that admission or complete agreement with our concerns is required before we can do any meaningful work. Turnell and Essex point out that this approach overlooks the ‘many strong social and interactional pressures that make denial a compelling response’ (p.29). For example, parents may fear telling the truth for fear of reprisals from social care (real or imagined) or feel too ashamed to admit the extent of their difficulties. 

In this book, the authors make the persuasive case that safety within a family can be achieved, even when parents vehemently deny the concerns, and provide an exceptionally useful, highly practical, and strengths-based framework to accomplish this. The approach advocated involves working collaboratively with parents to entertain multiple perspectives and develop a safety plan that is responsive to the central concerns. 

Turnell and Essex provide this helpful illustration to show an aspect of their approach visually.   

I learned from this that there are two ways I can help a parent and increase safety for a child. Firstly, we can support the individual (i.e., the faulty bulb), for example, encouraging a substance missing parent to access treatment for their addiction. Secondly, we can create safety that lessens the risks derived from a parent’s behaviour. To use the same example of a substance misusing parent, we could look at support via a Family Group Conference, consider the child accessing extra-curricular activities, and Safety Planning.

Central to this approach is involving the child. Turnell and Essex point out that many children don’t know why child protection social workers are involved with their families or why they were removed if they are in care. Without an explanation, children will hypothesize or imagine mistaken reasons. Given their developmentally appropriate proclivity for ego-centric thinking, they will often assume responsibility and blame themselves. Turnell and Essex provide a tool, ‘words and pictures’; a framework that helps social workers, in conjunction with parents, explain to the children about the concerns and describe what the family and professionals are doing about the problems. The words are accompanied with matching pictures to help children’s understanding further. This has been the most important and helpful tool for direct work with children that I have encountered. Even when I don’t use the tool fully, the underlying tenants have featured in almost every piece of work I have done with a child.  

Favourite quote:

‘In a ‘denial’ dispute, the professionals try to convince family members usually the parents of the ‘truth’ they believe has happened. Counter to this, key family members, including the alleged perpetrator, argue that the professionals are wrong, or they simply resist conceding the professionals’ position. Cases caught in a ‘denial’ dispute can often escalate to a point where enormous amounts of professional time, resources and energy are poured into them…admission becomes the only portal by which safety can be achieved, and when the parents maintain a position of ‘denial’ the professional imagination about what to do becomes exhausted’ (2006 p.8).

Post published note: After I published this blog, Donald Forrester helpfully shared this article from Family Law Week. Barrister, Patrick Gilmore provides a very useful summary, drawing upon a recently published judgement. Click here.

A question: What has been the most influential book, in terms of practical usefulness you have read? Please get in touch or leave a comment below.

An invitation: If you read any book I recommend and you are interested in sharing your learning, I would love for you write a blog post. Just get in touch.

If you have found this interesting/useful, you may wish to consider scrolling down further, and join a growing community of 600+ others in signing up for free blogs to be sent directly to your inbox (no advertisements/requests/selling).

As well as adding the remaining books that have influenced my practice, I intend to write every fortnight about matters related to child protection, children and families, attachment, and trauma.  Or you can read previous blogs here.

Published by Richard Devine's Social Work Practice Blog

My name is Richard Devine. I am a Social Worker in Bath and North East Somerset Council. After I qualified in 2010 I worked in long term Child Protection Teams. Since 2017 I have been undertaking community based parenting assessments. I obtained a Masters in Attachment Studies 2018.

12 thoughts on “5 books every front-line social worker should read in 2022 to make better decisions, build effective relationships, and improve the lives of children and families.

  1. Hi Richard

    Thank you for this lovely blog. Sparkling as a fellow theorist I am so enjoying getting these highlights.

    Hope all is sparkly in your world.

    I’m now in Worthing, as central london was hideous in lockdown. In theory writing , but avoiding brilliantly, including sea swimming

    I’ve recently read these two and sent to a variety of friends who also found them useful and easy to read. I suspect they will become best sellers through word of mouth. Enjoy.


    Stay safe and keep up the good work.

    Take Good Care.
    Helen (Oakwater)
    Author, Coach, Trainer
    Mob (UK) +44 (0) 7711478479
    E: helenoakwater@icloud.com
    Skype: helen.oakwater
    Sent from my iPad so please excuse any typos


    1. Helen, so wonderful to hear from you. One day I will brave the sea, for now however cold showers will have to suffice. Would love to read the recommendations (if you rate it, then its almost certain to be good) but the links don’t work unfortunately. If you could send them again that would be greatly received. All the best


  2. Richard, Andrew sent me your review as I am now semi retired. I thought I would mention that the work originated in the UK along with my colleagues colin luger and john gumbleton. The “lighting system aspect“ is based on theory of change which is not individual/psychodynamic change but contextual/systemic change. We thought that if we change the context i.e. include helpful people with long-term connections to the child in a meaningful way, then we build relational resilience/contextual change and significantly reduce the risk. Children knowing what is going on was always central to our work.
    I am so pleased that parts of the book have proved useful.


    1. Hi Susie, thank you ever so much for your comment. I was delighted to read and the clarification you provide on the ‘lighting system’. Perhaps I have imposed my own bias in the way we help individuals into the model. I hope you don’t mind, but I will add a post-published comment pointing readers to your comment so they can see my original piece and see your valuable and important response. If you ever wanted to collaborate in some way, I would love that – I would be fascinated to hear more from you. I think its important to draw upon the wisdom and insight of experienced, innovative practitioners. Thanks again for your important, invaluable contribution to the social work community. All the best


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