Making sense of the initial home visit: the role of intuition in child and family social workers' assessments of risk

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This article conceptualises the role of intuition in professional judgement. It draws on findings from an empirical study of home visiting in child and family social work. The study used a psychosocial analysis of narrative interviews (n=18) to investigate how workers constructed a professional judgement in relation to an initial home visit. In contrast to deliberative or analytic reasoning, intuition is defined as a non-conscious mode of reasoning, allowing the individual to reach a rapid judgement about a situation or person, often with striking accuracy. In this study, CFSWs’ intuitions during their first encounter with the family were an important source of information for their assessment of risk – their emotional responses, ‘niggles’ and ‘gut feelings’ sensitised them to potentially salient information before it was rationally accessible. The study identifies five heuristics used by CFSWs to assess risk during the initial encounter with parents: openness, coherence, emotional congruence, child focus and personal responsibility. It is argued that intuition is an important part of CFSWs’ decision-making toolkit. However, when accepted uncritically, intuitive reasoning can represent a risk for professional judgement through the creation of bias. The article identifies specific biases relevant to judgements made on the basis of an initial
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-444
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Social Work Practice
Issue number4: Risk in Social Work
Early online date5 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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