Storytelling among child welfare social workers: constructing professional role and resilience through team talk

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Child welfare social work is emotive and demanding work, requiring highly skilled and resilient practitioners. In a context of austerity, increased public scrutiny and accountability, defensive practice has been identified as a feature of professional practice. However, little is known about the processes through which social workers develop resilience or come to adopt a defensive stance in managing the demands of their work. This article focuses on professional storytelling among child welfare social workers. It examines how social workers construct their professional role through team talk and the implications of this for our understanding of professional resilience and defensiveness. Drawing on an in-depth narrative analysis of focus groups with social work teams, eight story types are identified in social workers’ talk about their work: emotional container stories, solidarity stories, professional epiphanies, professional affirmation stories, partnership stories, parables of persistence, tales of courageous practice and cautionary tales. Each story type foregrounds a particular aspect of child welfare practice, containing a moral about social work with vulnerable children and families. The article concludes with the implications of these stories for our understanding of both resilience and the pull towards defensiveness in child welfare social work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)968-986
Number of pages19
JournalQualitative Social Work
Issue number5-6
Early online date25 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • Child protection
  • coping
  • professional resilience
  • social work practice
  • story-telling
  • teams

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