Variable outcomes when family characteristics are similar are a problem in child welfare systems. Perceptions of risk and safety can vary widely, resulting in lack of consistency in practise and professional conflicts. This article reports on a mixed methods study that used an ecological approach to understanding variability in child welfare decision-making. Phase one of the study used a staged online vignette-based survey to compare statutory and non-governmental organization (NGO) child welfare practitioners' perceptions of risk, safety, and harm over time (n = 67), and key decisions such as when to substantiate. The survey also elicited qualitative responses about their conceptualisation of risk factors, safety factors, plan goals, knowledge bases and practice responses. Role type shapes differences in perceptions of the levels of risk, safety, substantiation and future harm. Statutory workers perceived present and future risk levels as lower than NGO workers, safety higher, and substantiated later. Both groups defined risk factors and safety factors at stages one and two in similar ways, and identified similar knowledge bases they would use in practice. Differences in safety constructions, practise responses and goals occurred at later stages. These findings suggest that despite broad similarities in knowledge bases, perceptions of the level of risk can still differ. This may be explained by the ‘situated role’ of the practitioner in relation to their position on the prevention – intervention continuum. Implications for theory, practice and research are discussed.
Children and Youth Services Review – Elsevier
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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