Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth

Social Work with Adolescents across Europe

In early 2022, a new Special Interest Group was set up as part of the European Social Work Research Association. The 'Social Work and Adolescents' group is convened by Dr Kristine Hickle (University of Sussex) and Professor Carlene Firmin (Durham University).

As children enter adolescence, their developmental needs in relation to safety and support change; they begin spending more time away from home and in extrafamilial contexts and for some, this includes exposure to significant forms of harm and abuse including serious violence, gang and drug-related criminal activity, sexual and criminal exploitation,

trafficking, and other forms of peer-to-peer abuse. Whilst many of these forms of harm are not new, they are increasingly viewed as child welfare, as opposed to juvenile justice issues; thereby increasing the involvement of social workers in leveraging a response. Moreover, adolescents experiencing harm within their family home(s) and relationships may respond differently than younger children; for example, by spending time away from home or displaying behaviours that are difficult or challenging for their parents or professionals.

In this context social workers are often tasked with protecting adolescents within constrained practice contexts and policy frameworks better designed for protecting younger children. Such frameworks avoid the complexities of safeguarding adolescents who may have experienced an accumulation of harm inside and/or outside their home and family network, and whose behaviour may pose a risk of harm to others and to themselves.

Research on social work with adolescents has identified innovative, participatory, creative, and bold solutions to the above practice and policy challenges. The Social Work and Adolescents Special Interest Group aims to bring together researchers interested in investigating, evidencing, and promoting social work responses for adolescents. The group aims to be an inclusive and supportive forum for fostering cross-national collaborations among members interested in research that may include a focus on:

  • Methodological advances for engaging adolescents in research about social work practice and systems
  • Theorising the role of social work in responding to abuse beyond families and in developing collaborative methodologies to work in partnership with parents and young people
  • Identifying synergies and divergences across European countries in respect of how they organise responses to adolescents at risk of harm
  • Scrutinising the definitions of ‘abuse’ as it pertains to adolescence and the extent to which social work research across Europe has questioned or broadened how harm is defined and understood, and/or prevented.
  • In creating new opportunities to evidence positive outcomes of social work interventions that address the contexts and relationships in which harm occurs.

Anyone researching adolescence who is interested in joining the Special Interest Group should contact Kristi [k.hickle@sussex.ac.uk] for more details.

Social Work with Adolescents in Europe