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Britain: We Need to Talk About the Benefits System

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Whether we want to admit it or not, the benefits system is hurting people. It’s killing people, and something has to be done.

Examples of how the benefits system can kill include incidences of people starving to death in their own homes to the 600 benefits-related suicides that have been reported so far (and this is a conservative estimate). The suicides and other deaths related to benefits have been reported again and again.  Reportedly, over 200,000 have been physically attacked as a result of claiming benefits, and, although it is not easy to unpick the reasons for this, approaching two and a half thousand people have died after being deemed ‘fit to work’.

A 2016 conference, Psychologists and the Benefits System: Time to Get Off the Fence was dedicated to just this topic. The British Psychological Society is also one of five official therapy/mental health organisations which have signed a statement opposing welfare sanctions due to the lack of evidence that they work, and the potential for harm.

After all, mental health has always been a social and political endeavor. If mental health professionals stay silent about our deadly benefits system, so deadly that the UK has been investigated by the United Nations for grave and systematic violations of human rights, are they not siding with the status quo?

A report from Cradle2Grave, a campaign against the abuse of human rights of people who rely on the state for financial help, highlight the shocking number of suicides which have been linked to welfare cuts.

In more than one case, it was the coroner themselves who suggested that the main cause of death was worry about benefits. A 2015 report from mental health charity MIND found that, as a result of the benefits system, job centre, and “help to work schemes”, around eight out of ten people:

  • Felt less able to work (76%)
  • Required more support from mental health services/GP as a result (86%)
  • Had worse self-esteem (83%)
  • Had worse confidence (82%)

And nearly a quarter of people were hospitalised or sectioned (i.e. legally detained) for mental health crises whilst on such schemes.

If this is the case, why is the rhetoric (and indeed, “commonsense”) view of people on benefits so at odds with reality?

One theory suggests that ordinary, compassionate people are able to stigmatise others because they feel that stigmatisation is justified (Crandall, 2003). British media has long been complicit in creating a culture whereby it is easy to stigmatise people on benefits, which creates fertile soil for this kind of thinking.

Stigmatising other people can be justified in two main ways. The first way is through the acceptance of a natural social hierarchy. The idea of a natural hierarchy is based on evolutionary theories, and is known as Social Darwinism – some people are intrinsically ‘workshy’, maybe worklessness runs in families (spoiler: it doesn’t), and so on. This image of the ‘benefits brood’ is designed to create a culture where an anti-welfare stance is the commonsense, rational way of seeing the world.

Secondly, stigma can be justified by suggesting someone is to blame for their own circumstances. This can include believing that the world is fundamentally just (i.e. people get what they deserve), and victim-blaming (poor people are lazy, make bad decisions and can’t plan properly, have too many children, spend frivolously, and are a burden on society). All of these stereotypes play out in empirical research into the matter.

Societal stigma can also lead to people who are on benefits repeating the same debunked myths about benefits, in order to distance themselves from the stereotype (i.e. “I’m a real/good/proper claimant”). This means that from all angles, this dangerous welfare narrative is being played out.

Better information and awareness may be one way to dispel these harmful stereotypes (necessary, perhaps, but unlikely to be sufficient). For example, people usually that ‘benefits’ means out-of-work, disability or child benefits. Newspaper stories reinforce this image. So do TV programmes such as On Benefits, Benefits Street, Benefits: The Millionaire Shoplifter, Skint, Dogs on the Dole, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, Undercover Benefits Cheat, Myleene Klass: Single Mums on Benefits and Benefits: Too Fat to Work  (yes, they are all real programmes). As such, government welfare figures can be easily misconstrued and used to political advantage.

Contrary to the popular image, benefits as an umbrella term include fuel payments, cold weather payments, carer’s allowances, bereavement benefits, over-75 TV licenses, Income Support and more. Notably, the bulk of Income Support being towards lone parents and carers, and less than 10% of Income Support is made up of incapacity benefits. Benefits are mostly spent on pensions (approaching half of the welfare budget, at 42%), whereas unemployment benefits account for 1% of welfare expenditure.

There is an entrenched public understanding that the benefits system is riddled with fraud. The public believes that 24% of benefits claiming is done so fraudulently. Interestingly, ‘benefit fraud’ is only used as a term for people claiming benefits. When companies assessing fitness to work make fraudulent claims that someone is fit to work in one in five assessments, or three out of four assessments for people with mental health problems (these are researched facts), we do not call this ‘benefit fraud’.

So, given ‘fraud’ as a term applied solely to the individual claimant, data suggests that there is no widespread issue with fraud in the benefits system. According to the government’s own statistics, benefit fraud by claimants is 0.7% of total benefits expenditure (£1.2bn). The public belief that around a quarter of benefits claims are fraudulent is, therefore, a 3329% overestimation. Benefits-related administrative errors, to give some perspective, take up double the amount of money spent on claimant fraud. The figures for tax evasion and avoidance can also be used for comparison here: the cost of the ‘tax gap’ in the UK reaches £122bn per year (over 10,000% the cost of fraudulent benefits claims).

Another myth is that benefits are ‘too generous’. In 2013, a study from the University of Edinburgh found that there is no link between the wellbeing of people without paid employment and the amount of money they get in benefits. Additionally, it is not the first study to reach this finding (see Veenhoven, 2000). In fact, cultural factors such as perceptions of people on benefits (i.e. stigma) have a much bigger impact.

Rather than being ‘too generous’, for years now multiple organisations have been stating that benefits cuts are causing material harm, especially to the most vulnerable of society. This includes housing charity Shelter, disability charity SCOPE, domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, child abuse charity NSPCC, a whole host of mental health organisations, and anti-austerity organisations such as UK Uncut, Sisters Uncut, Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle, and Psychologists Against Austerity (now Psychologists for Social Change) to name but a few.

These ideas – the poor are deserving, benefits claimants are fraudulent and the whole system is a drain on society, the benefits system is too kind and generous, most of our welfare system is spent on people too lazy to work, have to to be quashed. People’s health and mental health is suffering. People’s lives are being destroyed. People are dying. People are killing themselves.

Is this the kind of world we can live in, with good conscience?

We do not have to accept things the way that they are. We can join or support the organisations mentioned above. We can join in talks, discussions, marches, and events (or publicise these events when we can’t go to them ourselves).

We can write to our MP’s, sign petitions, talk to our friends and family, support films such as the recent I, Daniel Blake, avoid reality TV demonising people on benefits, call out the false narratives when we hear them. We can be aware of the facts (and ideally, share the facts!) to reduce stigma. We can offer a helping hand, we can be aware of the impact of losing benefits and try to offer a listening ear to someone who feels like a drain on society. We can look after each other.

Perhaps is it is not just psychologists who need to ‘get off the fence’. We all do, for humanity’s sake.

References

Crandall, C. S. (2003). Ideology and lay theories of stigma: The justification of stigmatization. In Heatherton,T. F., Kleck, R. E., Hebl, M. R. & Hull, J. G. (eds.) The social psychology of stigma (pp. 126-150). New York,NY: Guildford Press.

 

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Chey is a mental health worker from the north of England. She currently works with adults with learning disabilities. Her interests include gender, sexual and racial equality, human rights, social inclusion, older citizens, mental health and wellbeing, poverty and disability rights. She has participated in a range of charity and/or fundraising projects over the years, and looks forward to your ideas for the next one!

          
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Women Have Fundamentally Different Journeys to Financial Wellness, Merrill Lynch Study Reveals

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A new Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line,” celebrates the progress made by women while examining the financial challenges women still face throughout their lives, and offers potential solutions. The study finds that 70 percent of women believe that men and women have a fundamentally different life journey, reinforcing the need to better understand women’s financial concerns and opportunities. The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,707 respondents, including 2,638 women and 1,069 men.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers.”

“Women have come a long way both personally and professionally, but when it comes to their finances, there is still a trail left to blaze,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “As women are at a tipping point to achieve greater financial empowerment and independence, it is even more essential that we support women in helping them pursue financial security for life. This includes encouraging women to invest more of their assets, save earlier for retirement, and pursue financial solutions that closely align to their personal values and life paths.”

Findings include:

Women look beyond the bottom line
While they definitely care about the performance of investments, women view money as a way to finance the lives they want. Seventy-seven percent say they see money in terms of what it can do for themselves and their families. Eighty-four percent say that understanding their finances is key to greater career flexibility. When it comes to investing, about two-thirds of women look to invest in causes that matter to them.1

Superior longevity
Longevity needs to be a factor in everyone’s financial strategy, but more so for women, who on average, live five years longer than men. Eighty-one percent of centenarians are women.2 While 64 percent of women say they would like to live to 100, few feel financially prepared, with 44 percent of women stating they worry they will run out of money by age 80.

Confidence in all but investing
The study finds that women are confident in most financial tasks, such as paying bills (90 percent) and budgeting (84 percent). However, when it comes to managing investments, their confidence drops significantly; only 52 percent of women say they are confident in managing investments, versus 68 percent of men. Millennial women were the least confident at 46 percent. Of women who do invest, their financial confidence soars; 77 percent of women who invest feel they will be able to accumulate enough money to support themselves for life.

A trail left to blaze
The study also finds how important understanding the gender wealth gap (as opposed to the wage gap) and wealth escalators are to women’s financial wellness. Women experience a gender wealth gap – the difference between men’s and women’s financial resources across their lifetimes, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets. This wealth gap can translate to a woman at retirement age having accumulated as much as $1,055,000 less than her male counterparts.3Contributing factors include:

  • Temporary interruption, permanent impact: Many women experience lasting effects when they take time away from the workforce to provide care, including for aging parents, their own spouses, and their own children. One in three mothers who returned to the workforce after caring for children says she took on less demanding work, which resulted in lower pay. Twenty-one percent say they were paid less for the same work they did previously.
  • Greater lifetime health and care costs: The average woman is likely to have higher health costs than the average man in retirement – paying an additional $195,000 on average4 – due to living longer and having to rely on formal long-term care in later years.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers,” said Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave. “We have more opportunities and choices when it comes to family, education and careers, but we’re so busy taking care of other people and other priorities, we often don’t take the time to invest in ourselves and our future financial wellness. If more women can actively take control of their financial future all along the way, it would not only benefit them, but also their families and our society overall.”

Doing more to promote financial wellness
Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management business serves affluent and wealthy clients through two leading brands in wealth management: Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust. Advisors specialize in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals through investment, cash and credit management.

“In a period of remarkable advances for women in society, a remaining frontier is financial well-being,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It’s a basic component in the quality of life. This report lays out a blueprint for helping to achieve it – and we at Merrill Lynch relish the opportunity to provide women everywhere with advice and support that can make a meaningful difference at every stage of their lives.”

Through its advisors, educational offerings and other resources, Bank of America is positioned to help clients overcome the common challenges presented in the study by:

  • Addressing women’s top financial regret: not investing more. Forty-one percent of women say not investing more is their biggest regret. Women cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers.
  • Focusing on disparities in wealth, not just income. Women’s financial security is about more than closing today’s pay gap. It’s about accumulating assets or wealth at all income levels, and increasing women’s access to wealth escalators (e.g., employee benefits such as paid time off and pretax savings opportunities).
  • Breaking the silence about money. Sixty-one percent of women say they would rather discuss details about their own death than talk about their money. Forty-five percent of women report they don’t have a financial role model.

To learn more about women’s financial wellness, read “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line.”

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Global

Ending Gender-Based Violence in Conflict

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On this International Women’s Day, let’s applaud the advances made in the fight against gender-based violence this year, but also look to the work that still needs to be done.

The #metoo movement saw powerful men held accountable for a range of predatory behavior against women and girls. US states have been finally addressing the issue of child marriage. The Women’s March saw people from around the world gathering once again to advocate for women’s issues. Survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also spoke out and said #metoo.

There is no denying the strides that have been made.

Yet, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that 35% of women will face physical abuse during their lifetime. Furthermore, gender-based violence continues to be a common tool used to terrorize populations during conflict.

A poignant example of this is of the pervasive use of gender-based violence against the Rohingya women fleeing Burma. Rape has been used systematically by the Burmese military against these women, including children and older women. In addition to facing this violence, these women lack basic post-rape medical care after arriving in camps in Bangladesh.

Another recent example of gender-based violence in conflict is that of the Yazidi women who were kidnapped, raped and sold into sexual slavery by ISIS. One brave survivor, Nadia Murad, has spoken throughout the world to raise awareness of the genocide committed against the Yazidi people and to ask for justice.

Even in refugee camps, where women flee to in search of safety, there is exploitation of women. Syrian women have reportedly been forced to trade sex for food aid. The problem has gotten so bad that the women will no longer go to get food. Sadly, sexual exploitation of refugees in conflict zones by aid officials has happened in other crises as well including a vast human trafficking network during the conflict in Bosnia.

Perpetrators of gender-based violence during wartime are not only those in power but often include civilians, as has been documented in the Democratic Republic of Congo—pointing to the pervasiveness of the problem.

With the call for accountability for crimes against women, let this be the “Time’s Up” on gender-based violence committed during war. Ms. Murad and her lawyer Amal Clooney are advocating for evidence to be collected and brought to the International Criminal Court in the case against ISIS–one step toward holding perpetrators accountable.

Murad states, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine”. Let us channel the fire that brought about these movements to fight back against exploitation of women, especially the women facing the unimaginable difficulties of war.

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Turnkey: A Co-Housing Experience in an Italian Public Service for Addiction

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Turnkey is a term used in the economic field, but it also fits well in a social rehab project. The idea comes from the need to give some answers to the problem of those patients that experienced a long term therapy in an addiction rehab center for 3 or 4 years.

In the Italian welfare system, the outpatient service team -work (doctor, psychologist, educator, nurse and social worker), operating in the addiction recovery can schedule long term treatment in the residential rehab centers. In some cases, this long time permanence is something obliged, because of the serious addiction and also for the lack of different life perspectives after the recovery.

These kinds of patients need more therapeutic help in order to return to civil society in order to find  meaningful social membership. Usually, these clients have no meaningful familiar connections, no job, and no significant friendship.

In the last years, our social services system has become more careful about the use of public money. They noticed social workers more equipped to provide therapeutic interventions using a holistic approach in order to spare economic resources. Social workers are more capable to assist patients in reaching a better life condition by using their abilities toward social integration.

The Project

Five years ago, the program’s director asked for the professional team to think about a solution for the rehabilitation of the” long term patients”.

I started wondering about the meaning of poverty which is not only economics but it also the satisfaction of primary needs. It’s the lack of healthy relational bonds which weakness a lot the patients coming out of the drug addiction recovery programs.

I also noticed that this relational deficiency is a modern human condition; in the weakest social situations the loneliness is something that “destroys the mind “.

So I got an idea: I proposed to my director to start thinking about a possible apartment for a temporary co-housing for at least two patients.

He liked the project and submitted the plan to the municipalities which have the competence in the social side of rehabilitation. The municipalities agreed to the project and financed it.

For the patients in long term recovery, the rent was paid through the financing with the municipalities (an average of 6.000 Euro a year for 4 years, renewable), whereas the utilities and the others cost of the house has been in charge to the occupants.

The management of activities like the admission of the patients, the guaranteed respect of the therapeutic contract, the check of daily life and the help in the money administration, are some of my specific competences as a social worker.

In my job role, I had a significant part into find fitting persons for the project who were able to live together. I also contributed to choosing the people eligible to live in that specific therapeutic situation.

I helped the patients to organize their new life and to establish minimum rules of mutual life in the apartment. The project is strictly tied to the learning of the skills required to come back to live a regular life.

For example:

– living together is an opportunity for the patients to learn mutual respect

-cleaning the home and paying the utilities is a way to come back to daily responsibility and autonomy.

– having a good neighborhood relationship is a way to learn again to have good relationships without drug addiction to interfered an apartment, next to the main social and sanitary services of the town.

The results

Since 2011, we housed 11 clients in the apartment with an average of one year placement. We should consider that one year in a residential rehab center cost 30.000 euro each person.

Eight of them returned was able to manage a regular social life, their addiction, a job, maintain social relationships which helped them to achieve a dignified lifestyle.

Two persons are still in the co-housing situation, one of them has a regular job, and he is searching for an own house. Only one person abandoned the treatment.

This intervention is a daily challenge for our team; it gave us good results in the recovery outcomes like independence, citizenship, struggle against the stigma and improvement of personal resources.

We also have spared a significant amount of public money while offering to our clients a higher quality of life.

The creativity and the professional skills mixed together with the help of other colleagues in the multidisciplinary teamwork made this project an effective strategy to help patients overcome their circumstances.

So, I can call myself a responsible social worker, because I help to improve the personal resources in my client’s life. I was mostly inspired from the basic professional principle “start from where the client is”.

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Child Welfare

Getting Care Right for All Children – Free Online Course

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Join over 5,000 learners from across 172 countries who now understand just how important the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children are when caring and protecting vulnerable children.

Now is your chance to register to be part of this FREE global online course. Starting on 19 February, it is open to everyone who is interested in or responsible for children’s care and protection.

It only takes a maximum of 4 hours a week to take part in this six-week truly interactive course. Allowing you to learn wherever and whenever it suits you.

By the end of it, you’ll better understand the key principals, pillars and implications of the UN Guidelines. You’ll also connect and learn from people throughout the world.

What to expect?

During this course, you’ll have access to a mixture of learning materials including:

  • A film following a family moving through the care system.
  • Filmed lectures, articles and reports from world leading experts.
  • Online discussions to debate, ask questions and share opinions.
  • Quizzes.

Commissioned by leading international agencies, the course is run by CELCIS and delivered through FutureLearn, the digital education platform.

Course materials delivered in English, with some course materials available in French and Spanish. Don’t miss your chance to take part!

This course is designed for practitioners and policymakers from both state and non-state bodies (such as NGOs, CBOs and private service providers) and anyone working in providing services around children’s care.

This might include social workers, para-social workers, community support workers, lawyers, psychologists, child protection professionals, teachers, medical workers and care workers, including those in family-based and residential settings.

The course will also be accessible for people not working directly in this field and others with an interest or responsibility in the field of child protection and child care.

The course will be conducted in English with some course materials (including text and videos) also accessible in Spanish and French, reflecting the truly global nature of this issue.

What previous participants said:

‘I really enjoyed this course and gained a lot from what has been shared in articles, videos and other learners’ posts. This has already impacted my work.’ – Participant from Togo

‘I have learned so much about what happens in other countries around the world. I will continue to reflect on my current practice.’ – Participant from Swaziland

To get access to this free resources, sign up here.

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Employment

Networking – The Best Way to Keep Learning on the Job

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Like most comms professionals, I have a curiosity about learning. Be it about the latest craze on social media, or the newest news platform that I could try and get my organisation into.

I have been fairly diligent about keeping my skills set up-to-date. Regularly attending industry training courses, as well as embarking on a post-grad a few years back while juggling the demands of a busy role.

What’s struck me, however, is that the most profound learning comes from something far less slick than formal qualifications and training sessions, and that’s networking with our peers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked across a number of sectors having moved from the arts, to education, to health, back to education, and then back to health – you get the theme – and now into the children’s sector now into the children’s sector where I work as Communications Manager at CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland).

With each move, I’ve managed to make connections with my counterparts at other organisations. By regularly keeping in touch with them, occasionally meeting up for a coffee, you can gain so much knowledge from each other by comparing notes, woes, and inspirations all in a oner. It really is cathartic. I would urge anyone to get to know their equivalent elsewhere, you never know when you might need them.

In the earlier stages of my career, I established a useful working relationship with a colleague at another institution. Given the supposed ‘rivalry’ between the institutions we worked for (I’m not naming names!) we had to use judgment and discretion when it came to information sharing. There was a real value to us being able to use each other as a sounding board for managing difficult media requests. On one funny occasion, we both spoke to each other mobile to mobile from our respective toilets!

Peer-to-peer learning comes in many forms and guises. An occasional and irregular meeting to talk shop, can lead to bigger plans for shared learning.

From Networking to Communities of Practice

I moved into a job promoting a brand new museum and gallery in central London some years back. Having attended a meeting on Southbank of arts PRs, I was vocal about the need to develop something a little more formal for us to keep abreast of what was happening in our tiny sector of comms professionals. What emerged from this was a working group of budding volunteers, and the establishment of a national conference where like-minded colleagues from throughout the country got together to learn from each other, and hear insights from those at the top of our industry.

What we didn’t realise at the time of its formation was that we really were a Community of Practice in the making (NB ‘Community of Practice’ is the slightly more academic/formal term for networking with peers.

New Year’s Resolution

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2018 is to help keep a network of comms professionals going in the children’s sector in Scotland. We are a varied bunch – from third sector organisations and campaign groups, to academic centres, NGOs and colleagues working in government – but we have much in common: our values as organisations; keeping our comms relevant to our intended audiences; and the need to embrace new and emerging technology.

Anyone wanting to know more, do be in touch.

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Disability

Scottish Journal For Residential Care: Final Call for Views and Experiences of Disability

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The Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care (SJRCC) is inviting submissions for a special themed issue on disability to be published in December 2018.

We are seeking ideas for papers now on any aspect of disability and residential child care – or indeed any aspect of care, or leaving care. We’d like to hear from academics, from people involved in caregiving, and from young people reflecting on their own experience of care and disability.

Although published here in Scotland, the Journal has an international outlook. And this makes sense because concerns about the welfare of children in care is a global one, and international comparison provides us all with an opportunity to develop research, policy, and practice.

We’re always looking for contributors from across the globe to share their wide and varied experience – from practitioners, managers, researchers, and policy folk, to young people with experience of the care system.

Papers from countries other than Scotland are particularly welcome.

Submit now

If you would like to be considered, please email our Guest Editors by Wednesday 31 January: [email protected] You will need to provide:

  • a paragraph with your ideas
  • five keywords
  • your brief biograph (maximum 70 words).

Brief for contributors

We welcome:

  • Academic papers of up to 6000 words in length
  • Practice accounts of up to 2000 words in length
  • Using everyday life activities with individuals with disabilities
  • ‘Breakthrough’ moments when someone showed surprising potential
  • Reflections on situations which helped a fuller understanding of someone’s needs
  • Creating positive environments
  • Changing approaches – working therapeutically.

Open call: submit your ideas and work to the journal

We welcome and publish a real variety of articles and papers on all topics related to residential child care.

  • Peer-reviewed academic papers
  • Short reflections or commentaries on research, policy or practice
  • Methodological papers from doctoral studies
  • Accounts of relevant conferences
  • Book reviews
  • Obituaries

For more details, download our submission pack.

The Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care is a peer-reviewed, open access e-journal which aims to provide a rich forum for debate and dissemination about the topical issues in residential child care research, policy and practice.

The topics covered are wide-ranging and relate to all aspects of residential childcare, including the interface between residential care and other contexts, such as health, education and other care settings, as well as topics relating to children’s wellbeing in public care.

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