Beyond Blame: Child Abuse Tragedies Revisited

Beyond Blame: Child Abuse Tragedies Revisited

Beyond Blame: Child Abuse Tragedies Revisited

Beyond Blame: Child Abuse Tragedies Revisited

Synopsis

What can we learn from inquiries into cases of fatal child abuse? Beyond Blameoffers a new way of looking at such cases and shows that it is possible to draw important lessons from them. The authors, all three experienced in child protection work, summarise thirty-five major inquiries since 1973, setting them in their social context and discussing the implications both for practical work in the field and for future inquiries.
They stress the need for those who work day to day in child protection to develop and apply a more sophisticated level of analysis to assessment and intervention. They identify common themes within abusing families, in the relationships between members of the professional networks, and in the interactions between the families and the professionals.

Excerpt

This is a welcome and timely addition to the literature on child abuse, for two reasons. First, the review of the child abuse inquiries on which it is based was much needed. Previous work, including that of the DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security 1982; Department of Health 1991) and my own (Stevenson 1989), did not examine these cases systematically from a specific theoretical standpoint. As the authors demonstrate, the sad stories of these families and of the professionals who sought to work with them are a rich mine to quarry. Others will read their significance differently but this is in a sense unimportant. What has to be done-and this is an excellent start-is to seek to make sense of the bewildering, inconsistent, tragic behaviour which they so graphically illustrate.

The second reason for a warm welcome follows from these observations. It has seemed to me for some time that there is an urgent need for those who work day to day at field level in child protection to develop and apply a more sophisticated level of analysis to assessment and intervention. Much effort in the past twenty years has been put into the construction and adaption of procedures to protect children (and workers). On the whole, these have been valuable and should not, in my view, be denigrated. But they must be complemented by professional and inter-professional advances in understanding and skill. Some have been made in the field of assessment, the Department of Health (1988) guidelines making a useful contribution to this. Yet, both in assessment, as I have pointed out elsewhere (Stevenson 1989), and most particularly in the matter of intervention, conceptual frameworks for the understanding of phenomena have been little utilised. The authors represent a particular frame of reference. There are others which do not necessarily coincide and may be in conflict. This is a healthy part of a process of learning. The trouble is that, intense as these debates may be, they have taken place in very restricted circles and left the vast majority of social workers struggling on in a kind of intellectual fog; for example, alternative modes of intervention and their evaluation have been rarely examined in any depth on qualifying or even post-qualifying courses in social work. When a theoretical position emerges, sui generis, from social work itself, it may then be seized upon avidly and uncritically, as happened in the case of the work of Dale et al. (1985). I hope, therefore, that this book will be widely used as offering a

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