Travels in the Trench Between Child Welfare Theory and Practice

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Travels in the Trench Between Child Welfare Theory and Practice examines how the child welfare field’s rush to establish credibility and permanence through program growth during the post World War II era gave rise to a massive but fragile conglomerate unprepared to prove its merits when challenged by an increasingly dubious public. Author George Thomas proposes a broad-based shift from program growth to knowledge-based growth in policy, management, education, research, and information technology initiatives to revitalize performance and restore public confidence in the system.

Thomas’s book proposes to shift the leadership emphasis away from the “big business” flavor of child welfare and re-define it into a mediator role of trusting worker and client competencies. Travels in the Trench Between Child Welfare Theory and Practice shows how the two sides merge and concentrate on five key issues:

  • Policy—Contrasts the impact of the two orientations on shaping the field’s sense of mission, defining its role, establishing its priorities for growth relative to size, specialization, and knowledge base, and stimulating or reducing client adversarialism and public perceptions of chronic mission failure.
  • Management—Examines how the priorities of the two orientations differ relative to preserving hierarchical authority, rewarding work that exceeds mandates, promoting innovation and experimentation, and relying on process as distinct from client outcome accountability.
  • Education—Examines how the priorities of the two orientations differ relative to relying on manpower and brain power, on “one right way” of doing things versus doing what is legal and ethical.
  • Research—Examines how the priorities of the two orientations differ relative to confirming the “rightness” of the field’s existing knowledge base and testing it to expand its scientifically validated portion through discovery.
  • Information Technology—Explores how the priorities of the two orientations differ relative to disclosing and preserving privileged communications, developing common and specialized language, and breaking down or protecting authority and status differentials.

    This historical and cross-sectional analysis forms a framework proposing that the field’s future value in meeting the nation’s child welfare needs must have a willingness to shift its commitments from problem to competency-oriented theory and practice, to accept a de-emphasis on growth and a reduction in specialization, and to redirect investments in education, research, and information technology. According to Thomas, this enables readers to revitalize practice wisdom, grow the scientifically validated portion of the field’s knowledge base, and begin to restore public confidence in the system.

    The book’s contents are presented in interview style to enliven the material and make it more accessible to a wide audience. The reader determines the sense and direction of the analysis and the appropriateness of the questions from which it flows. Travels in the Trenches is intended to promote critical analysis of the link between long range vision and its impact on daily practice.

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Editorial Reviews

This volume examines how the child welfare field's rush to establish permanence and credibility through program growth during the post-WWII era gave rise to a massive but ill-prepared bureaucracy which, the author asserts, has failed to adequately serve its intended clients. He proposes to move child welfare leadership away from this "big business" approach by fundamentally redefining child welfare's role. Policy, management, education, research and information technology are discussed as potential arenas for change. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560246916
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Series: Child and Youth Services Series
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents


  • Introduction: A View From the Trench
  • Child Welfare Policy: Charity and Justice
  • Child Welfare Management: Pervasive Distrust and the 5 Solution
  • Child Welfare Education: Knowledge Acquisition by Acceptance or Inquiry?
  • Child Welfare Research: Knowledge Production by Confirmation or Discovery?
  • Child Welfare Information Technology: Knowledge Dissemination by Privilege or Disclosure?
  • Beyond the Trench: A Level Playing Field or Archaeological Digs?
  • Reference Notes Included
  • Index
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