Assessment in child protection : A comparative study Norway - England
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Original versionAssessment in child protection : A comparative study Norway - England by Vibeke Samsonsen, Stavanger : University of Stavanger, 2016 (PhD thesis UiS, no. 280)
Aims: The overall aim of this thesis was to explore the phenomenon of assessment in child protection by comparing two different assessment practices, the Norwegian and the English. Additional aims have been to generate knowledge by interpreting findings from the perspectives of professionals and parents who have experienced assessment, and to contribute to identify central aspects of the use of professional judgement in child protection assessments. The guiding research questions throughout this thesis have been: what mechanisms are at play in assessments in the two contexts, and what seem to constrain and support fruitful assessment practices? Additionally, what can we learn from each other (Norway-England) in terms of such practices? A “Critical Realist” approach has been applied as an overarching perspective throughout this thesis. Methods: The data source for this study consists of interviews with social workers and parents from Norway (Bergen) and England (Bristol), together with assessment reports from both countries. This is an in-depth study with a qualitative approach, including interviews with 14 social workers regarding their perspectives on practice, analyzed by means of thematic content analysis. Additionally, 11 interviews with parents were undertaken, who had been assessed by social workers following child protection concerns, analyzed by means of thematic narrative approach. Furthermore, a total of 31 assessment reports (which were not linked to the family cases), were analyzed through textual content analysis. Results: When analyzing the professionals` experiences (Paper 1) three main themes emerged: 1.Assessment framework, 2. Professional judgements, and 3. Contextual factors. The main findings show that the social workers in Norway and England experienced their respective assessment framework quite differently. Specifically, social workers in Norway presented professional judgement as a core element of assessing in child protection, but looked for more structured ways to make good judgements. However, they were concerned about increases in bureaucracy in the assessment process, resulting in more paperwork and less time spent with families. The social workers in England were proud of their “triangle” model for assessment and the general thoroughness in the system, but they longed for more trust to use professional judgement in assessment, and more resources to meet the needs of families after assessment. Differences between the two groups were discussed in the light of contextual factors, with special focus on the concept of accountability: How does the government in each country restrict and/or support the professional judgement of social workers when assessing in child protection? Differences were found in national accountability approaches, with the English authorities turning to structural accountability strategies by controlling and reducing the space for professional judgement through structures and procedures, and the Norwegian authorities on the other hand using a more epistemic accountability approach by supporting, rather than restricting, the room for professional judgements through resources in terms of staff and education. The parents’ experiences (Paper 2) resulted in two overarching themes of “emotions” and “power” in assessment practice. When asked about their opinions of the current assessment framework, families in both countries talked more about feelings than about framework and procedures. The parents` experiences of assessment were similar in both countries. First and foremost they experienced strong emotions in a stressful situation: anxiety, frustration, powerlessness, but also relief. However some differences were identified in the way social work is acted out according to the national assessment framework and policy context. The English framework and procedures seemed to contribute to provide clarity with regard to process and power within the system. The Norwegian assessment practice was characterized by professional judgement accompanied by more resources, which seems to enable helpful decisions from the family’s point of view. However, this heavy reliance on professional judgement within relationships was also viewed by parents as social workers’ having informal power. Paper 3 is a theoretical analysis of the different characteristics illustrated by Norway and England regarding the role of professional judgement in child protection assessments. This paper explores and discusses the different ways in which professional judgement is understood and addressed in each system. Acknowledging child protection as a “Wicked problem”(in terms of complexity), a model of Grounded Professional Judgement is proposed, based on notions of epistemic responsibility and accountability to support the exercise of professional judgement in situations of uncertainty. Thismodel occupies a middle position between those currently reflected in the assessment systems in the English and Norwegian context. Retaining a commitment to the use of professional judgements, the model nonetheless provides a structure within which a judgement can be exercised more rigorously, transparently and in a way that can be called to account. In this way, Grounded Professional Judgement may provide a counterbalance to the potential idiosyncrasies of decision making, and avoids professional judgement being elevated to a point where it is beyond challenge or critique. At the same time, in systems where the space for professional judgement has been reduced at the expense of increased procedure and bureaucracy, it would provide a framework within which professional judgement can be “reclaimed” by social workers and built back in to practice. Conclusions: Assessment frameworks in child protection seem to be of importance for all those involved in assessment practice. Experiences from Norway and England can be used as illustrations of different stances on a continuum where different assessment frameworks and practices include diverse framing of the problems. Heavy reliance on assessment structuresmay restrict the room for professional judgements (as seen in England), whilst lack of mandatory assessment structures implies heavy reliance on professional judgement (as seen in Norway). The pitfalls on both ends of this continuum imply that a middle-position might be most fruitful in assessment; the main question is where to find the balance between the two. It also appears fruitful to support assessments by systemic factors, eg enough resources in terms of staff, education and interventions, together with constructive public debate. From the families` point of view, the “right” balance involves clarity of the assessment process and power issues, and provision of tailored services and interventions after assessment.
Doktorgradsavhandling i Sosialt arbeid
Has partsSamsonsen,V. & Willumsen, E. (2014). Assessment in child protection: Social worker`s voices in England and Norway. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 9(1), 1-34.
Samsonsen,V. & Willumsen, E. (2015). Narratives from parents in England and Norway:-power and emotions in child protection assessments. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 10(1), 1-25.
Samsonsen, V. & Turney, D. (2015). The role of professional judgement in social work assessment: a comparison between Norway and England. (Submitted 27.01.15, and received 10.06.15 as accepted with minor revisions, in European Journal of Social Work).