Family Hubs and the vulnerable care ecologies of child and family welfare in austerity

Tom Disney, Steve Crossley, Hannah King, Josie Phillips, Ian Robson, Roger Smith

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Abstract

This article takes an ecological approach to examine the legacies of austerity for local authority welfare systems in England; and the implications for families seeking to use these services. Programmes of Early Intervention or Early Help that promote ‘resilience’ amongst marginalised families and reduce future dependency upon state services have been advocated consistently in the UK, currently intensifying with a period of welfare retrenchment and restructuring. Many programmes and approaches being promoted prioritise a discourse of individual or familial responsibility and seek to deflect attention away from structural and environmental changes that have taken place. We explore local authority family and child support services as relational care practices that have been fundamentally reshaped through austerity; and in doing so we seek to shift the conversation from individual responsibility to systemic and collective vulnerabilities. Drawing on the concept of ‘care ecology’ to conceptualise local authority Early Help services as ‘carescapes’, we focus specifically on the changing context of ‘Family Hubs’, and the fragmented nature of service provision. As with any ecosystem, care ecologies are constituted by interconnected and interdependent actors, processes, and systems. Damage to them produces unintended consequences which exacerbate underlying ‘vulnerabilities’. We explore this as a legacy of austerity, noting that this has resulted in forms of socio-spatial distancing from care provision for families, disrupting protective networks and support systems. We argue that local authority support services would be better focused on systemic and collective vulnerabilities rather than individual responsibilities in order to provide meaningful support to families.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Geographical Journal
Early online date21 Jan 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jan 2023

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