Multi-agency work to support children in care in Ireland: an activity theory analysis of psychologists’ and social workers’ perceptions
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Multi-Agency Work to Support Children in Care in Ireland: An Activity Theory Analysis of Psychologists’ and Social Workers’ Perceptions Catríona (Katie) Curtin Background. In order to enable children in care to experience success, multi-agency work has been highlighted as a transformational goal of the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures policy framework (Department of Children and Youth Affairs [DCYA], 2014). However, a lack of research has focused on multi-agency work to support children in care within an Irish context. Aims. This research firstly aimed to explore the role of psychologists during multiagency work to support children in care to inform the evolving role of educational psychologists in Ireland (Health Service Executive [HSE], 2016a). Secondly, the role of allocated social workers was investigated as they are key professionals within the Irish child care system (Gilligan, 2019). Thirdly, the research aimed to delineate factors which influence how roles and responsibilities are shared between professionals. Finally, facilitators and barriers to such work specific to an Irish context were examined. Method. The research adopted a qualitative design. Fifteen psychologists and five social workers participated in the study. Psychologists spanned a range of settings including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, primary care, disability and school psychology services. All social workers were working within the Child and Family Agency. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, with questions based on second-generation activity theory (Engeström, 2001). A two-phase approach to data analysis was employed, comprising inductive and deductive analysis. Findings. Key themes that emerged regarding the role of the psychologist included that they are skilled consultants, ethical practitioners, and supportive professionals. Findings also revealed that social workers are a ‘bridge’ between services, negotiate with others to overcome challenges or issues and keep the child in mind in the longterm. Factors which influence role demarcation between professionals as well as facilitators and barriers to multi-agency work concerning children in care are also discussed. Conclusions. Implications for policy and practice regarding multi-agency work to support children in care are presented. Furthermore, future research opportunities are outlined, with the aim of supporting professional and organisational development.
Children in care