Social practice theory (SPT) investigates how meanings (socially available understandings/attitudes) work together with competences and materials/resources to develop shared (social) practices. SPT was used as a theoretical and analytical framework in a study which investigated ‘successful’ professional practices when working with parents with learning difficulties where there are concerns about child neglect. The research took place in three local authorities (LAs) in England that were recommended as sites of ‘successful’ practice. With the parents’ agreement, 38 professionals who worked with the eight participating families were asked about their ideas about parents with learning difficulties and neglect, their understanding of ‘successful’ practice, their experience and knowledge of working with this group of parents, how they worked with the parent and other professionals involved with the parent, as well as the resources available to them. Detailed case studies of the support provided to eight mothers were developed. It was found that the professionals shared a range of attitudes and understandings, including awareness of the many barriers faced by this disadvantaged group of parents, and that the neglect was typically linked to lack of understanding/knowledge about the child’s needs which could in many cases be mitigated through provision of support. The meanings they shared promoted an empowering, relationship-based, multi-agency approach to parents which recognised their need for support while also focusing on the needs and welfare of the children. This positive approach accords with the call for longer-term/recurrent support to be available for parents with learning difficulties alongside the development of a social model of child protection that rethinks how best to safeguard vulnerable children.
This article is part of the special issue of the Child Indicators Research journal, focused on child neglect.