Effects of professional experience on child maltreatment risk assessments: A comparison of students and qualified social workers

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This study is a collaboration between social work and psychology academics, using a quasi-experimental technique to explore the effect of experience, along with moderating cognitive, emotive and demographic factors, on risk judgements by social workers, compared with judgements made by social work students. Participants (forty social workers from two authorities; 105 students from two universities) assessed vignettes of cases where child maltreatment was suspected or likely, and their evaluations were measured using four risk scales. Qualified social workers rated risks lower overall than did students and those with more experience rated risk lower than those with less experience. The largest variation in risk judgements between practitioners and students was for emotional aspects of risk, where student scores were significantly higher. For practising social workers, though, the perceived likelihood of being blamed was significantly positively correlated with risk judgements: the greater chance of blame, the higher the risk rating. No such correlation was found for students. This provides some experimental support for widely held concerns about the influence of the ‘blame culture’ on practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2298-2316
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number8
Early online date27 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • risk
  • blame
  • psychology of risk
  • blame culture
  • social work judgement
  • risk assessments

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