Journal Article

The Missing Assessment Domain: Personal, Professional and Organizational Factors Influencing Professional Judgements when Identifying and Referring Child Neglect

Jan Horwath

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 37, issue 8, pages 1285-1303
Published in print December 2007 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online May 2006 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcl029
The Missing Assessment Domain: Personal, Professional and Organizational Factors Influencing Professional Judgements when Identifying and Referring Child Neglect

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Professionals encountering possible cases of child neglect face a complex task when judging whether a particular concern warrants a referral to social work services. A study of referral practice in cases of child neglect, completed in the Republic of Ireland, highlighted that it is not just the nature of the concern that influences referral practice but a range of other factors that are not related to the needs of the specific child. Assessment frameworks and tools, designed to assist practitioners make decisions about potential cases of neglect, usually focus on technical–rational activity associated with assessing children’s needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental factors. The findings from the study described in this paper indicate that assessment practice is as much a practice–moral activity as a technical–rational one. In other words, it is both a head and a heart activity. In this article, the factors influencing practitioners’ approaches to the identification and referral of cases of child neglect are explored. A range of factors appear to influence practice. These include the practitioner’s own perception of what comprises neglect and the extent to which they use ‘gut reaction’ or an evidence base to reach this conclusion. Their interpretation of role and the views of their colleagues and team manager also influence practice. In addition, their perception of social work services and the benefits of referral affect decisions to refer. Finally, their own personal feelings such as fear, guilt, over-empathy and anxiety about the response of the community have an effect on practice. The paper concludes by drawing together the findings of the study to produce a ‘practitioner domain’ alerting practitioners and managers to the head and heart activities which influence referral practice.

Keywords: assessment; child neglect; referral practice; professional judgement

Journal Article.  8007 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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