ON THE TIGHTROPE: Making Sense of Neglect in Everyday Child Welfare Practice

By White, Jennifer; Hoskins, Marie | Canadian Social Work Review, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

ON THE TIGHTROPE: Making Sense of Neglect in Everyday Child Welfare Practice


White, Jennifer, Hoskins, Marie, Canadian Social Work Review


Abstract:

Seven child welfare practitioners from British Columbia, Canada were interviewed to learn about how they conceptualized and articulated what they were doing when working with families where neglect was a potential concern. Based on a constructionist methodology we examined how neglect was discursively constructed. We illuminated some of the specific and complex language practices that practitioners relied on to produce meanings and identities, formulate accounts, and justify actions within particular social contexts. We suggest that we need to design professional development curricula in ways that prepare practitioners for the inevitable "walk on the tightrope," placing a particular focus on the flexibility of language and strategic interaction.

Abrégé : Sept praticiens de la protection de l'enfance de la Colombie-Britannique, au Canada, ont été interviewés pour savoir comment ils concevaient et expliquaient la nature et le pourquoi de leur travail auprès des familles susceptibles de négligence. Sur la base d'une méthodologie constructionniste, nous avons examiné la façon dont la négligence se construisait par le discours. Nous avons mis en lumière certaines des pratiques particulières et complexes du langage dont les praticiens dépendent pour conférer sens et identité, formuler des comptes rendus et justifier la prise de mesure dans des contextes sociaux particuliers. Il nous appert nécessaire de concevoir des curriculums de perfectionnement professionnel préparant les praticiens à l'inévitable « marche sur la corde de raide » en mettant particulièrement l'accent sur la souplesse du langage et de l'interaction stratégique.

IN CANADA, like in other jurisdictions, neglect is one of the most common forms of substantiated child maltreatment. It accounted for almost one diird of all cases in 2003, according to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) (Trocme, Fallon 8c MacLaurin, et al. 2003). All Canadian provincial and territorial statutes recognize "child neglect" as grounds for investigating maltreatment, with neglect typically referring to "situations in which children have suffered harm, or their safety or development has been endangered as a result of the caregiver's failure to protect them" (p. 39). Despite the clear articulation of different types of neglect within the CIS Report, deciding what belongs in the category of "child neglect" is often one of the most challenging tasks facing child welfare practitioners.This is due in part to the fact that it relies so heavily on making interpretations and value-laden judgments within highly ambiguous and contested contexts - all while attending to issues of identity, diversity, relations of power and local cultural and social norms (Hoskins 8c White, 2009; Reisig & Miller, 2009). With this article, we summarize some of the complex social processes that a select group of child protection workers from British Columbia relied on to produce and maintain the category of child neglect.

More specifically, we were interested in studying some of the discursive and relational practices that bring the category of "child neglect" into being and the implications for case planning and family interventions. In this way, our study has much in common with other social care research mat examines child welfare practice through discursive, narrative and interpretive lenses (D'Cruz, 2004; Hall, Slembrouck & Sarangi, 2006; Parton 8c O'Byrne, 2000). Our work also resonates with the seminal work of Canadian scholars Swift (1995) and DeMontigny (1995). These authors have each called attention to the socially constructed nature of neglect and have exposed many of the highly gendered assumptions and ideological conditions that serve to maintain it. As DeMontigny suggests, "what counts, and what is counted as child abuse and neglect arises from methods for making sense which are inextricably linked to an institutional apparatus (p. …

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