The missing assessment Domain: Personal, professional and organizational factors influencing professional judgements when identifying and referring child neglect

  • Horwath J
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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.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Assessment
  • Child neglect
  • Professional judgement
  • Referral practice

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  • Jan Horwath

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