Professional assessment and decision-making in child welfare

Project leader

Funding source

Forte - Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2003
End date: 31/12/2004
Funding: 1000000 SEK


Referrals in child protection have increased during recent years. Social Services are obliged to investigate suspicion of harmful domestic conditions and children’s own problems if the child’s development is at risk. Considerable leeway is given to municipalities to interpret law and choose interventions. The practice of the law has been explored by following the sorting process involving referrals assessed, investigated, dismissed or processed to interventions. Factors connected to social workers assessments have been tested in regression models for different stages in the process and grounds for assessments explored in qualitative interviews. Collection of data was carried out in two local agencies. All referrals and requests for assistance on children in age group 0-18 years were collected during two months, followed by telephone interviews with social workers. Main results are:

The sorting process can be described by the shape of a funnel. 70% of the 260 children referred were not investigated. Further 10% of the cases investigated were dismissed without intervention. In the end 20% received interventions. 25% of the cases were closed immediately without further action. 31% of the parents had one or a couple of conversations with a social worker. Arguments for not investigating were: situation not acute, no signals of abuse and neglect, no cooperation with parents, no evidence, investigation recently made, anonymous referral, parent seems capable.

The majority of the children referred were in the age range 7-17, 50% teenagers and more than 75% boys. The main sources for referrals were the police, child’s private network, school and the social services. For one agency requests from parents were most common.

More than half of the children were referred for complex issues and associated with social services before. Common problems were conflicts in families, antisocial behaviour and school problems. The most infrequent problem was abuse. However, abuse showed the strongest explanatory value for starting an investigation, 77% were investigated. A somewhat narrow-minded protection perspective appears to exist. Neglect, serious conflicts in families, children’s drug- or alcohol problems, or criminality was not perceived as a serious risk for a child. Nor was the child’s age an influencing faktor for investigation. Apart from the strong link between abuse and starting investigations, more inquiries are performed if referrals come from authorities (not the police) and concern a girl.
87 % of referrals from the police about antisocial behaviour were not investigated. It indicates that high work-loads lead to heavy-handed prioritisations with risk for incorrect decisions on what groups to be included or excluded.Main reasons for not performing interventions were: no appropriate service is at hand and services already tried. Lacking cooperation from parents was not an issue.

Criteria concerning investigations were not in agreement with criteria for interventions. No connection was found between abuse and intervention. Problems as living conditions and ‘parents in need of relieving pressure’ were prioritised for deciding on interventions showing a more welfare oriented approach.

Interventions in child protection are surprisingly undeveloped. The most common service is “supportive talks”, almost as common as foster and residential care. Supportive services/ in-home treatment are in most cases performed with low intensity. Thus, interventions are either loose or quite extensive. It can be questioned whether services at hand fit the families. Though legislation emphasises the welfare perspective with a considerable lee-way for municipalities to create interventions, practice works on the basis of another kind of rationality. Few children are subjected to investigations and interventions. Concidering the low amount of children who qualifies for interventions the too lose or too extensive types of services is put in question.

Last updated on 2017-24-03 at 12:52