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Title: Discourses of children involved in child protection and safeguarding welfare : a Foucauldian analysis of social worker assessments 2001-2010
Author: Mason, Helen
ISNI:       0000 0004 2735 8061
Awarding Body: Institute of Education, University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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Summary: This study is a discourse analysis of core assessments (n=-54) completed by thirty two social workers, and a case study of documents (n=68) from child protection and care proceedings completed between 2001-2010 in one local authority. The main research aim was to identify the dominant discourses of children involved in the UK child protection and safeguarding welfare system. Methodologically, the ideas of Foucault form the central theoretical foundation, and techniques from Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) were used also. Results: Only two thirds of the original sample of children had a core assessment on file. Further, over half of the children in the sample (56 per cent) were already removed from their parent(s) at the time of their initial core assessment. Five practices used by social workers were identified which constructed knowledge about these children. These were omission, nominalisation or use of the passive voice, hyperbole or overstatement, conflation and use of collocation, generalisation and vagueness. These practices produced three broad, but overlapping discourses, or ways of seeing the children concerned. I refer to these as "needy child", "problem child" and "risky child". Social workers permitted other professionals to contribute to these ways of seeing in 94 per cent of the core assessments; whereas, they permitted the parent(s) and the child to contribute in only 56 per cent and 42 per cent of the core assessments respectively. From the case study analysis, an additional five practices used by social workers and other professionals were identified. These included factual inaccuracy, manipulation of sources, strengths omitted, undermined or ignored, contradiction, criticisms of the child and repetition. Across the time period examined, the discourses of child in the case study shifted. Discussion: The practices identified have effects which relate to the limited and narrow way of seeing the children concerned. For some children in the sample, the practices could be perceived as stigmatising. The implications of these findings occur on two levels. First, ethical practice and human rights issues locally in terms of how social workers go about constructing "needs" and "risks"; and secondly, for government policies concerning child protection and safeguarding welfare. Conclusions and application: The findings provide new insight into practices used in child and family social work assessment. The findings are relevant to the onward development of practices in the child protection and safeguarding welfare system in several ways. First, in the assessment practices used to distinguish effectively between children "in need'', and children at risk of "significant harm" (a conclusion reserved to the study sample, not beyond); secondly, in raising awareness of the importance of critical evaluation of the practices of social workers and others in relation to vulnerable families; and thirdly, in focusing attention on how these practices may be contingent on certain political and economic conditions of possibility.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available