Social work with affluent families

Changing policy and practice in social work with affluent families.

Primary page content

By showing how social work is frequently manipulated by middle-class families, Claudia Bernard’s research resulted in new policies for social work with affluent families in several London boroughs that directly affected some 4,850 social workers across London.

Bernard initially developed a partnership with the City of London Corporation and conducted a review which sought to find out what was known about child neglect in wealthy families. It found that most child protection social work is perceived to be motivated in contexts of poverty. Bernard was then commissioned to undertake a further national study examining how social workers engage parents from affluent backgrounds across the child protection system.

Interviews and focus groups helped gain an understanding of social workers’ experiences of intervening with affluent parents when there were child protection concerns. 30 frontline social workers, managers and policy-makers charged with child protection across twelve of the wealthiest local authority areas in England were also interviewed.

Bernard found that neglect in affluent families can be difficult to recognise and address, posing challenges for effectively safeguarding children at risk. Social workers have difficulties in maintaining their focus on children because of the way that affluent parents use their financial and social capital to manipulate the child protection system.

New training has been introduced by the City of London as a result, and Bernard’s work has also been instrumental in the development of the borough’s Children and Young People’s Plan. Outside of London, a dozen boroughs in different parts of the UK have been actively considering policy change.

Bernard’s research, published as policy reports, peer-reviewed articles and a professional practice article, was noticed by the UK Independent Schools Inspectorate in 2018, who requested to work with Bernard to develop new policy on child protection in their settings and introduced new mandatory training for inspectors as a result.

Beneficiaries of the work include social work leads in local government, social work practitioners, social work academics, and above all, the children in affluent families who are at risk of neglect or harm.

This research was submitted for REF 2021.