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Broken lives: A social worker’s tale (book review)

Posted: July 05 2021

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Broken lives: A social worker’s tale
  • Author: Teresa Devereux
  • ISBN:978183859195
  • Publication: SMatador Imprint of Troubador Publishing, UK
  • Reviewed by: Hannah Gborie, MSc Social Work Student, Brunel University London, UK
  • First published online in Qualitative Social Work 20(3):
Cover of the Broken lives book

‘Broken lives’ is a powerful story which gives the reader an insight into the difficult situations social workers face in their work. Although this book is fictional, the author takes the reader through some of the experiences she faced as a children and family social worker.

This book is centred around the trials and tribulations faced by the main character, April, a children and families social worker as she begins to work with Samantha, a Mother of two girls, and Becky, the mother of a three year-old boy, Freddy. The author takes the reader through the conflicts that April encountered with families, and how she overcame those obstacles by building a trusting relationship with them, thanks to her honest and reassuring approach.

For this review, I will mainly focus on Becky and Freddy’s characters. Teresa Devereaux has a degree in Psychology and Sociology, and she became a qualified social worker in 2001. She worked as a children and family social worker for eight years and then started working with children with disability before becoming a manager. Teresa now works part-time as an independent reviewing officer, chairing for children in foster care. Teresa’s political stance is towards social justice and equality of opportunities. She strongly believes that every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential and this is demonstrated throughout her book.

The author introduces the reader to Freddy, who lives with his mother, Becky and her new boyfriend Colin. April is allocated to Freddy’s case, due to a number of reports of injury from his nursery. April arranges a meeting for the family and other professionals, to find out what is going on. Becky is asked about these injuries, but her explanations do not match the injuries. During the meeting it becomes clear that Colin is controlling as he takes charge in answering the questions aimed at Becky. As a reader I found his character infuriating, because his character appears to be domineering. However, this made me want to continue following the story. Reading further, April seems to think that she knows what is happening to Freddy due to her past experience of dealing with similar cases. As a reader this also raised alarm bells for me and made me feel concerned for Freddy. Whilst the story unravels, April and Becky share a moment where Becky starts to reveal the truth. Through Freddy’s case, the author demonstrates how as a social worker, it is easy to use experience and knowledge of theory to assess the situation and then conclude as to what is happening and what needs to happen next. A quote from Bourdieu urges the reader to assess the situation from a sociological viewpoint.

“The difficulty, in sociology, is to manage to think in a completely astonished and disconcerted way about things you thought you had always understood.” (Bourdieu, 1991, p. 207). Freddy’s case demonstrates that as social workers, it is vital to put aside our preconceived ideas when working with the families we will come across. 

April is sure that Freddy is being physically abused by his mother’s controlling new boyfriend, as a reader I also felt very confident that this was the case. As I read on, I found myself becoming emotionally invested in the characters and hoped for a good outcome for this family. Further into the book, Becky reveals to April that she has been the one hitting Freddy as a form of discipline.

The author’s notion of the women forming an unlikely bond due to their similar childhood experiences is not emulated in the book, however the highs and lows of the women charted throughout the story gradually works its way to an ending which left me feeling a good mix of emotions, and wondering about the future of the characters. As a social worker student, I would particularly recommend other students and professionals to read ‘Broken Lives’. The book gives additional understanding into the profession and complex cases that a Social Worker will deal with. This story was written in a very clear way, easy for the reader to follow, which is illustrated as the characters come to life. The author shows an in-depth understanding of social work profession and sheds a spotlight into how poverty and abuse make it difficult for parenting and how social workers work hard to keep the families together.

Bourdieu P (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.