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Decision making in child protection practice

Kelly, Nancy (2000) Decision making in child protection practice. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

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    This research explores the decision making processes of individuals and groups engaged in
    child protection practice within social services departments in the UK. The emphasis of the
    research was to consider how the application of psychological theories and concepts might
    allow a descriptive and interpretative evaluation of decision processes in child protection
    practice. The research sought to elaborate upon much of previous social work literature in that
    it focused upon the processes of decision making rather than the outcomes for participants.
    Similarly it sought to elaborate upon literature in decision theory in that it focused upon real
    world, ongoing and naturalistic decision situations. The theoretical framework used in the
    research was an integrated model of decision making under conditions of risk proposed by
    Whyte (1989,1991). This model outlines circumstances under which individuals and groups
    may take decisions in the directions of risk or caution.

    The methodological approach was grounded in the principles of qualitative research. Drawing
    upon Forster (1994) and Yin (1989) documentary analysis was applied to case studies. The
    research considered documents in relation to two categories of child protection cases. Initially
    those where children who were already known to child protection practitioners had died,
    namely, child death inquiry reports. Ongoing cases within a local authority child protection
    department, where the outcomes and decision making were considered to be positive, were
    then analysed. The interpretation from the first stage of the research suggested that all the
    concepts outlined in Whyte's model could have explanatory value and that the deaths of
    children could be a consequence of the ways in which decisions are framed and which leave
    children in situations of risk. The second stage involved the analysis of documents in relation
    to eight ongoing cases within a local authority. The number of group meetings held in the eight
    cases was 38 and in 71% of these the operation of the certainty effect in the direction of risk
    was evident. In the remaining 39% there was evidence that the certainty effect operated in the
    direction of caution. Within the documents there was some evidence of group polarisation and
    groupthink. Resources were committed and escalated consistently in order to ensure the
    effectiveness of initial plans of action despite evidence that these were unsuccessful in terms of
    the overall well being of the children.

    The decisions were shown to be bounded by the 'objective' principles of the Children Act 1989
    and Working Together (1991). However themes that emerged from the analysis of the cases
    suggest that there is a 'subjective' influence on decision processes. Evident within the analysis
    was a shared fundamental belief in keeping children with their mothers. Both these objective
    and subjective influences suggest that almost inevitably decision making in child protection
    practice will be driven in directions that result in courses of action that involve potential and
    actual risks for children. The findings emphasise how an explicit recognition of the
    multifaceted nature of decision making can assist in more reflective practice. The ways in
    which national and local policy impacts upon decision processes, at the level of the individual
    and groups, need to be monitored in order that the needs of children in situations that involve
    risk remain paramount.

    Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
    Additional Information: EThOS Persistent ID
    Uncontrolled Keywords: Risk assessment, Group polarisation, Groupthink, Psychology, Sociology, Human services, Management
    Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
    B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
    Schools: School of Human and Health Sciences
    Depositing User: Graham Stone
    Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2009 10:38
    Last Modified: 28 Jul 2010 19:39


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