Systemic approaches in children’s
social care contexts
Nick Pendry, Institute of Family Therapy and Great Ormond Street
Hospital for Children NHS Trust
The Systemic Approach
• Interpersonal rather than intra-psychic,
• Problems embedded in relationships,
• Circular rather than linear causality,
• Mutual influence,
• The importance of context,
• Influence of family beliefs, rules and
patterns of communication.
The application to a children’s
• A liberating
effect - problems are
relational rather than embedded in
• Individuals are freed from being
• Social workers are freed from
intervening only with individuals, in
order to, “fix problems,”
• The influence of family beliefs, rules
and patterns of communication,
• The pattern of relationship between the
Reclaiming Social Work
• The systemic approach embedded into
the very structure of children’s social
• At points of crisis traditional ways of
doing social work are much less likely
to be followed,
• The systemic approach in the interests
of doing better, more thoughtful,
theoretically coherent social work.
A case example
“Stuck,” child protection case,
White UK family known to Local Authority for many years. Mother, father and three children
aged 10, 7, and 4,
Concerns around neglect, children’s behaviour, domestic violence between parents, mother’s
alcohol use,
Social worker applied systemic ideas in work with family:
Relationship between local authority and family over time,
Exploring ways of relating and doing family that have worked over time,
rather than focusing on deficits,
Explored wider family system for strengths and resources,
Understanding of children’s behaviour in the context of their relationships,
Understanding of mother’s alcohol use in a relational context,
Dominant narrative of mother’s (and the professional system around the
family) parenting ability.

Systemic approaches in children`s social care contexts 14.12.11