The Children's Bureau
The Children’s Bureau: Shaping a Century of Child Welfare Practices, Programs, and Policies, edited by Katherine Briar-Lawson, Mary McCarthy and Nancy Dickinson, NASW Press, Washington DC, 2013, 342 pages, $55.99.
The title of this text would seem to indicate that the book is about the history of the influence of the Children’s Bureau, but what is most beneficial to educators and practitioners alike is the relationship to current trends in child welfare practices. The editors chose experts across the nation to present viewpoints about the varying issues relative to child welfare practice and included a wealth of research information on the subject.
Chapters discussing trauma-informed care practice, working with clients with co-occurring disorders, and family-centered practice all contribute to the understanding of child welfare practice today. The chapters on workforce and leadership development, as well as organizational imperatives, will help social workers new to child welfare or those who influence program development to understand some of the challenges and dynamics facing the field today. The text provides specific attention to working with tribal entities and nicely articulates the roles for partnership and collaboration across systems of education, training, and service.
Practitioners will appreciate the chapter on engagement. The authors used stakeholder reflections to highlight areas in which social workers can adjust their practice to improve engagement and utilize the skill set that is helpful to promote professional relationships. The authors did not stop there, however, also including factors at both the peer and systems levels that can facilitate engagement.
Each chapter outlines the history of Children’s Bureau efforts, research evidence within the topic area when possible, the role of social work, and implications for both educators and practice. As in any edited text, the authors approach the focus of the chapter differently within the given framework. If I were to indicate a limitation of the text, it would be that there appeared to be some repetition regarding the Children’s Bureau history across several chapters. The information was connected to the specific chapter focus, but was repetitive. The framework did not always fit well for the topic of the chapter, resulting in cursory coverage of some of the topic areas, which is not unexpected in what is essentially a reference book. I would like to have seen more discussion of systems issues in the chapter on trauma informed practice and information on racial disparities, compassion fatigue, and self-care, for example.
This book is a wonderful resource for individuals interested in child welfare systems and would be a great addition to agency and academic reference collections. In the classroom, I could see the text as a supplement within courses directed to child welfare or even to provide a more specific child welfare focus in policy courses at all levels. The topic-specific chapters can bridge understanding between other areas of practice and child welfare. In more advanced level course work with an emphasis on child welfare practices, the text could be used for further discussion, critique, and investigation of those societal factors that influence the treatment of children and families. The authors are to be commended for pulling together child welfare history across so many dimensions.
Reviewed by Joan Groessl, MSW, Ph.D., LCSW, Lecturer and BSW Field Coordinator, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.