Child abuse and the bureaucratisation of social work

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Child abuse became a public issue in the early 1970s. The alleged failure of social workers and welfare agencies to prevent children being killed by their parents and caretakers led to changes in the practice and organisation in child abuse work. The way public inquiries and government departments framed the problem of child abuse produced solutions which were essentially legalistic and bureaucratic. No longer was the aim to rehabilitate poorly functioning families, but to protect children from dangerous parents. But in order to achieve this aim, it was first necessary to identify the factors that would allow child protection agencies to recognise which families were dangerous and which were not. Once these factors were identified, it was possible to develop administrative systems that would facilitate the collection and analysis of information obtained during the investigation of suspected families. These systems allowed welfare agencies to identify ‘high risk’ cases. During the translation of the problem of child abuse into a set of judicial and bureaucratic procedures, therapeutically orientated professional practices found themselves out‐manoeuvered. The translation witnessed the production of social workers as ‘passive agents’, a new cognitive perspective on the problem of child abuse, and a contribution to the bureaucratisation of child care practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-508
Number of pages19
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1992

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