Piper, Christine (2013) 'Making-Sense' of Child Neglect: An exploration of child welfare professionals’ practice. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This study aims to understand and critically analyse the knowledge and practices of child welfare professionals who play an important role in recognising, responding to and intervening in cases of child neglect. The study contributes towards a greater understanding of the complexities of the child welfare professionals’ (CWP) institutional practices when categorising cases as neglect. Three data collection methods were used; semi-structured interviews, an analysis of child protection case conference minutes and observation of social work practice. The complementary data sets produced revealed an understanding of CWP’s knowledge and practices which would not have been possible using a single method.

The CWPs interviewed, from four professional groups, shared a typical image of a neglected child but this image did not coincide with all cases categorised as cases of neglect identified during the analysis of the Minutes and the observation of social workers’ practice. The exceptions to the typical image included young people, unborn children and children experiencing emotional neglect. The CWPs working in universal services talked about ‘building a picture’ of neglect since neglect was not always obvious. There were inter-professional differences around thresholds and the ‘level of neglect’ that warranted child protection intervention. The CWPs talked about their understanding of neglect being broader than the parents’, since their understanding included emotional neglect. This perceived difference in the CWPs’ understanding of neglect had implications for their interactions with parents and was seen as a challenging area of practice. The participant observation data showed that social workers used numerous features when carrying out assessments, including features relating to the parents, the children and the home environment. These features functioned in different ways depending on the context and which features co-existed.

CWP practice was influenced by professional roles and personal values. Professional practice involved multiple interactions, and the crucial nature and impact of these interactions was key to understanding the process of categorising cases of neglect.

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