PhD Thesis

Protecting Children – A Critical Contribution to Policy and Practice Development

A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy – April 2010
PhD Thesis: Dr Liz Davies

This thesis presents six documents as a synthesis of the author’s contribution to child protection policy and practice from the late 80’s to the present day. The work provides a critical reflection on child protection social work policy and practice informed by research of documentary evidence from survivor’s accounts, legislation, policy, practice guidance, academic texts and media reporting.

It is argued that the refocusing agenda of the mid 90’s generated a policy shift that was detrimental to child protection systems and processes. The originality of the author’s approach lies in the presentation of six themes, five of which have to be combined at the forefront of policy and practice. The first theme is a child rights approach which includes hearing the voices of children, adult survivors of abuse and professionals who work to protect abused children.

The second theme is a concept of prevention as an essential strategy in the protection of children from harm, which thirdly, emphasises the importance of joint work with the police as well as, fourthly, the involvement of the community in the investigation of abuse and targeting of perpetrators. The fifth theme advocates the positive use of the media whilst the sixth reflects the author’s professional experience of being silenced.

The author presents a challenge to the rationale for the prevention approach as defined in policy agendas since the mid 90’s and accelerated through the Every Child Matters agenda. That rationale included the argument that over zealous professionals were implementing an incident-led approach which represented excessive and expensive state intrusion into family life.

The author concludes that, by the late 00’s, these very features had emerged as a result of policies supposedly designed to achieve the opposite, the prevention agenda having damaged child protection systems by devaluing professional investigative skills and through punitive approaches to child victims. It is argued that social workers in late 00’s, in compliance with a universalist approach and over-burdened with mechanistic child in need assessments, were intervening in family life at the level of concern rather than significant harm, leading to extensive regulation and surveillance of children and parents as the dominating characteristics of children’s services. Central to this thesis is the evidence of the author’s work as a social work activist and her methodology.

Particularly through her publications and use of the media, she has brought to professional, political and public attention the complexities and importance of specialist, proactive child protection social work practice.

DOWNLOAD THE THESIS AS A PDF HERE.