Review by David Lane
In this book Professor Roy Parker has brought together a collection of essays (in one or two cases, speeches) on various subjects about the way services for children and young people have developed over recent decades, and ways in which they may develop. Although Roy is still actively working in an emeritus capacity, he has had long experience in the field of social policy and is well placed to write on the theme.
The essays contain detailed evidence, meticulously evaluated, as one would expect in his work, but the main point about the papers is that they are designed to clarify thinking about key issues. Roy knows enough about the subjects he covers to be able to identify what has been properly researched and where there are gaps. It is refreshing to have such gaps acknowledged. As he points out, politicians, civil servants and child care professionals often have to devise policies and systems on the basis of beliefs and assumptions, rather than a solid foundation of evidence.
His writing style is lucid and logical, and he takes the reader through his subjects along lines of clarification which are easy to follow. He underlines what is uncertain by challenging the reader with questions. If the printer had relied upon old-fashioned type he would have had to order an extra supply of question marks.
In child care, politicians introduce new policies, whether they are well-founded or not. Is this true in the Treasury or the Ministry of Defence or the NHS, or is it that everyone thinks that they know about the upbringing of children and that policy development in this field does not require expert knowledge and research?
The dozen articles cover – among other things – residential care, foster care, legislation, trends and transitions, the assessment of children’s needs, the role and function of inquiries and emerging issues. The chapters are full of interesting points. The papers do, of course, reflect Roy’s thinking. As one goes through the book, one would like to add annotations from experience, or wish he had followed up a line of enquiry further, or note a lacuna or – rarely – something that one disagrees with, but that is the point of such books. They are not laying down the child care equivalent of Mosaic law but are encouraging readers to think and take arguments further, so that when services are developed and policies are constructed they reflect the best thinking that can be achieved in a busy, underfunded, imperfect world.
Roy’s book is to be commended to anyone who wants to think about child care services, whether they are politicians, professionals or academics, so that they may learn from the past and from identifying trends, underlying themes and potential pitfalls, when putting together new approaches.
Parker, Roy (2015) Change and Continuity in Children’s Services
Policy Press, University of Bristol
ISBN 978 1 44732 222 1