Journal Article

Performing ‘Initial Assessment’: Identifying the Latent Conditions for Error at the Front-Door of Local Authority Children's Services

K. Broadhurst, D. Wastell, S. White, C. Hall, S. Peckover, K. Thompson, A. Pithouse and D. Davey

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 40, issue 2, pages 352-370
Published in print March 2010 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcn162
Performing ‘Initial Assessment’: Identifying the Latent Conditions for Error at the Front-Door of Local Authority Children's Services

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This article draws attention to the faulty design elements at the front-door of children's local authority services, arguing that current attempts to increase safety, through the formalization of organizational procedures and their enactment by IT systems, may have had the contrary effect. We argue that the analysis of errors in organizational settings should focus on immanent systemic weaknesses, particularly the ‘latent conditions’ for error that generally increase the risk of failure. Reporting the findings from a two-year ESRC-funded ethnographic study, and examining the local adaptations of practice arising in the performance context of the ‘modernized’ front-door of children's services, we draw attention to the short-cuts that the current configuration of the initial assessment system appears to necessitate, given the immutable timescales and excessive audit requirements. New modes of governance can clearly play a central role in error management, but the design of an effective system needs to be based on the needs of users and on a thorough understanding of their working practices.

Keywords: Initial assessment; child welfare; error; latent conditions; performance management

Journal Article.  7765 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Work

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