Social Work book club @SWBookGroup
Chosen text “We are all completely beside ourselves”.
“We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler (2013)
Book club host – Penny Sturt, I am an independent trainer, social work educator and registered social worker. In agreeing to host this session I wanted to draw on my experience in each role to think about what this book has to say and what we can discover about ourselves.
As a trainer (often with In-Trac) and also offering post qualification education through Bournemouth University I regularly facilitate social workers to think about children’s development. My starting point is always what knowledge do you have and where does it come from?
This is pertinent for social work qualification; we have all been children and our experiences in childhood will be part of shaping the choices we make subsequently about the areas of specialism we choose to follow. If we choose the specialism of working in the arena of children and families, as I have done, we have to train ourselves to consciously think about and reflect on how much our decisions are shaped by our own experiences.
How do you distinguish between knowledge from experience and knowledge from other people’s research? It seems to me that this is particularly challenging as much of the early practice frameworks around children’s development originated from the observations of key theorists of their children e.g. Freud and Piaget. Clearly this has been challenged over the years and there are many good sources for independent corroboration of child development theory (e.g. Brigid Daniel, Lena Robinson and Graham Music). Nevertheless, when I read Fowler’s book, I was strongly reminded of both the experimental and experiential nature of knowledge. As social workers it is important to get in touch with where our knowledge comes from (our experiences of childhood and dependency) and yet to know that our experience may need to be put aside in assessing other children’s experiences. How do we make and evaluate knowledge and use such knowledge in our practice frameworks?
Other themes emerging in the book explore the nature of “family”. Who defines family and family roles? The strong voice in the story from one protagonist asks questions about the nature of sibling relationships.This is a key theme in social work practice. When should siblings be kept together and what impact will separation have?
From another perspective there are questions to ask about the role of parents. Arguably all parenting is an experiment, there are few known outcomes and the evolving nature of humankind is to recognise that your children will become involved in the world in ways you will not have known or believed possible. In this book the parents made choices to involve their offspring in a living experiment. During the book club discussion we can consider the parental role in subsequent events; when you recognise your poor decision making how do you alleviate the situation?
At any point in this story the unfolding narrative might have looked different. What are the benefits of the story being told by the grown up child? How do children’s voices alter as their own knowledge and perspective grows with greater experience? Social workers make decisions with the best available, but possibly incomplete, information trying to think about likely consequences. Listening to everyone’s view and then weighing up options to cause children least distress possible is a laudable ambition; how do we measure a successful outcome.
Please read the book, it’s a good read and join me to debate these (and perhaps other) issues using the #swbk
My thanks to Amanda Taylor for the opportunity to lead this discussion.