To Touch or Not to Touch? Exploring the Dilemmas and Ambiguities Associated with Touch in Social Work and Social Care Settings
In early years child care, primary school education and in residential children’s homes, some, particularly male staff, go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being alone with or touching children. These workers consequently often showcase their constant visibility and `safe practice’ in order to avoid potential, feared allegations of inappropriate conduct (Cameron, 2001; Green and Parkin, 1999; Jones, 2004; Owen and Gillentine, 2011; Piper and Smith, 2003). In most social work (SW) and social care settings (SC), many already abused and multiply disadvantaged service users are often deprived of touch and are ‘touch hungry’ (Lynch and Garrett, 2010) or have previously been violated through abusive touch. They therefore may respond by avoiding touch completely or search for it covertly or in ways that place them at further risk of exploitation. Alternatively, they may impose touch on others in an aggressive or socially unacceptable manner. In one residential children’s home studied by one of the authors the teenage boys often accessed touch through initiating ‘play fighting’ with other children and staff but when this was banned they devised other inventive and covert ways of meeting their touch needs:
Another residential worker interviewed by Green who worked in a different residential home recounted initially being very unsure about what kinds of sexualised touch behaviour between residents were normal and acceptable.