Living on the edge: Social workers’ reasoning about cusp decisions in child protection practice

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Decision-making, Assessment, Risk and Evidence (DARE) conference in Belfast, Ireland, run by the effervescent Brian Taylor from Ulster University. Our (myself and Ian Hyslop’s) presentation drew on our decision-making variability study that examines how and why child protection social workers make the decisions that they do. Understanding why a social worker might choose to either increase or reduce statutory intervention at key decision points on the decision-making continuum is one element of figuring out the reasons for variability. This is important to understand, as without knowing how or why key decision points function, it’s difficult to get a grip on improving or evaluating them.

Our study is based on the decision-making ecology, which proposes that decisions are not just the result of a single practitioner finding out information then coming to a decision. Instead, decision outcomes are the result of interlocking factors across the whole ecological spectrum, from macro factors such as inequalities, to meso factors such as organisational cultures and processes, and individual factors such as the values and culture of the social worker (Baumann, 2011). In this presentation, we were focussing on one main decision point: to go to a family group conference. Interviewing 24 social workers across three sites of the then Child Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki), plus holding six focus groups, allowed us to gather rich qualitative data about this and other fundamental decision points. These slides outline the perceptions of practitioners about what caused them to pursue a family group conference instead of either another intervention or none at all.


Baumann, D. J., Dalgleish, L., Fluke, J., & Kern, H. (2011). The decision-making ecology. Washington, DC: American Humane Association

[slideshare id=106124691&doc=darepresshort2fgc-180716094956]

Image credit: Thomas Hawk


4 replies on “Living on the edge: Social workers’ reasoning about cusp decisions in child protection practice”

Hi Susan – surprisingly few social workers mentioned the Tuituia framework. Lots talked about the FGC and what would lead them to holding one – more coming soon!

Hi Emily. Thankyou so much for sharing this presentation. As an older person who was brought up in the 1950s / 1960s The fact that all this is now being examined is of great comfort to me.
I would like to draw your attention to an article in this months M2 Woman- “Lost & Found, Then Lost again.
Quote- “Even now, in the media and in general society, the expectation is that successfully finding your birth family is a joyous and wonderful thing. “Aren’t you lucky?” “Now you have two families.” There is a romanticising of the reunion story when, in fact, for many there is more pain, grief and confusion, than the joy everyone wants to see….”
I experienced my peers being secreted away sometimes for ‘confinement’, which was seen then as the ‘normal’ response to childbirth outside of marriage that even if parents and grandparents endured so much peer pressure to conform to. Being in this situation left very little room for families affected by this social policy to engage in ‘independent’ approaches to this issue. Whatever private response families had within their grasp was carried out ‘in secret’. Universally held social value judgements at that time meant that the single parent and child was all but ‘invisible’.

Kia ora Jayne – thanks for your comments. It’s certainly important to understand how decisions get made in this area so we can examine them. The reasoning processes that lead to decisions about family life, as you point out, has historically been hidden away – but needs to be more transparent.

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