Parton, Nigel and Martin, Norma (1989) Public inquiries, legalism and child care in England and Wales. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 3 (1). pp. 21-39. ISSN 1360-9939

The aim of this paper is to examine the contribution of public inquiries to the reform of child care law and practice in England and Wales in the 1980s. Particular attention will be paid to the most recent inquiry, the Cleveland Report (Secretary of State, 1988). We wish to argue that a consensus has evolved on what must be done which is characterized by its reliance on what we call legalism. Evidence for this development is found both in the proposals for legal and administrative reform, and in concerns around social work practice. The reframing of child care issues around the pole of legalism is then located within the wider social and political context. Our conclusions are that ‘legalization’ may have significance in legitimating the social work profession and its role in child protection work, but that faith in legal intervention as offering a ‘solution’ to the problem of child abuse, is likely to be misplaced.

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