University of Sussex
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On needing 'need': an exploration of the construction of the child with 'additional needs'

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:14 authored by Tish MarrableTish Marrable
My research takes a social work perspective to investigate the concept of the child with ‘additional needs’. This concept arose out of the Labour Government’s programme ‘Every Child Matters’ (HM Government, 2003) which proposed that children’s needs for support should be picked up at an earlier point by an integrated Children’s Services consisting of social care, health and education. This would stop them from ‘falling through the net’ of services. A focus on ‘additional needs’ should mean that children in distress are helped at an early stage before problems became critical, improving the ‘well-being’ of children and their families. The research has traced the cases of twelve children with ‘additional needs’ through their contacts with Children’s Services, using an interactionist methodology to interrogate the meaning-making between respondents. Further, following Hacking (2004), a Foucauldian approach to discourse allowed me investigate the discourses which shape formal diagnosis and categorization. Focusing on the ways that the child is positioned and perceived has allowed me to address the question of whose ‘need’ is prioritized when the child enters the professional gaze. In doing so it has examined the role of formal and informal labels in constructing the child, the emotional content that goes into creating the ‘meaning-labels’ of the child, and the ways that failures in knowing about the child affect the ways that a child becomes pictured. It concludes that in the shifting practices that make up Children’s Services, the child with additional needs can become lost in the complex interaction between adult needs and emotions. The informal ‘meaning-labels’ which arise out of this complexity often identify the child as carrying a ‘spoiled identity’. This can be carried through into practice with the child, including the processes of formal diagnosis and categorization. Adult emotions need to be managed better if children are to get fitting and timely help to allow them to thrive.


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  • doctoral

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University of Sussex

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