Emotional labour in social workers’ encounters with children and their families

Karen Winter, Fiona Morrison, Viv Cree, Mark Hadfield, Gillian Ruch, Sophie Hallett

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14 Citations (Scopus)
289 Downloads (Pure)


The ending of a social worker relationship with a child can evoke in both a range of feelings from relief, satisfaction and happiness through to anxiety, loss and grief. It is an area that is little focused upon and yet the process of ending a professional relationship, either well or badly, can have profound implications for workers and children alike. Using data from an ESRC project ‘communicating with children’ and theoretically informed by sociological concepts associated with the work of Hochschild (1983), this paper explores the organisational context of social work that gives rise to ‘feeling rules’ in the workplace and their influence and impact on social workers’ endings with children. It is argued that there is a tension between the bureaucratic imperatives of the job that construct endings as ‘professional, detached, formal and emotion free’ and the influence of relational frameworks that are premised on the expression and exchange of emotion as part of the ending process. Both social workers and children tend to operate several surface strategies to create emotional distance and thus on one level making the process of ending easier to manage but these do not address the deeper level feelings evoked by endings. It is argued that social workers need to pay attention to deeper level feelings as this is a vital consideration in helping children develop the capacity to manage transitions in their relationships both in the short and longer term.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberBJSW-17-165.R2
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Early online date19 Apr 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 19 Apr 2018

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