Re-envisaging professional curiosity and challenge: messages for child protection practice from reviews of serious cases in England

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Learning lessons from cases where children have been killed or seriously harmed from abuse or neglect is important for child protection policy and practice around the world. In England there is a long-established system of locally based, multi-agency reviews. Three recurrent themes over the years have been the poor quality of assessments, shortcomings in inter-agency working and information sharing, and not knowing the children and understanding their experiences. The reviews often identify a lack of ‘professional curiosity’ and insufficient ‘challenge’ on the part of child protection practitioners as the cause of these problems. This paper analyses these concepts, drawing on four recent studies of child safeguarding reviews conducted by the authors and their research team. It uses qualitative data from the reports and the views of local professionals in online focus groups. The reviews tend to use the perceived lack of curiosity and challenge as the explanation for poor practice without interrogating why, when and in what circumstances it becomes more difficult for professionals to remain curious and appropriately challenging. Professional curiosity and challenge are complex, multifaceted concepts, and applying them in practice is difficult and skilled work. The paper argues for a more nuanced and grounded understanding of the concepts and their application in practice. It sets them in wider frames of communication and courage, and the ambiguous policy context of a preference for cooperative engagement with families but high expectations about protecting children. It offers recommendations for future research into the review process, authorship style, practice in local agencies and national government policy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107081
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Early online date29 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2023

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