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Managing the commitment to protect children from maltreatment: the case of child contact centres in England.

Caffrey, Louise (2014) Managing the commitment to protect children from maltreatment: the case of child contact centres in England. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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BACKGROUND: According to the guidance to the Children Act (1989 and 2004), ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (2010; 2013), all organisations that work with children have a responsibility to protect children from maltreatment. However, previous research on child contact centres raises questions about how well this service is meeting the responsibility. This study seeks to explore in more detail how well contact centres manage their responsibility to protect children and what factors may influence them in this task. Research in the area of safety management has shown the limits of top-down guidance in achieving the desired level of practice. It provides a systems framework for studying how guidance is being implemented on the ground, including how it is interpreted by different actors in the system, and how they interact to produce the observed level of practice. METHODS: Mixed methods were used to undertake a systems approach to studying the management of child protection responsibilities in contact centres. This approach aims to provide an in-depth understanding of what is happening in child contact centres, in terms of child protection, and why. FINDINGS: Despite the introduction of reforms which aimed to improve safety in child contact centres, problematic child protection practice has persisted. It is argued that this is because common weaknesses in voluntary sector provision of human services have not been fully addressed. These weaknesses are insufficient funding, inadequate professionalization and narrow organisational focus. The findings suggest that these issues informed how actors in the system experienced and understood the practice of protecting children. The findings suggest that the safety of children in contact centres is also affected by the persistence of problematic inter-professional working. It is argued that the tools which have been introduced to address this have not been effective because they do not in themselves address the difficulties actors face in working together. There remains a lack of capacity amongst some centres and referrers who do not necessarily have the skills required to safely make and accept referrals. In addition, actors in the system experience role ambiguity. Finally, the thesis suggests that although organisations that work with children are encouraged to take account of children’s wishes and feelings in order to protect them, workers in child contact centres engaged with children in diverse ways. A typology of engagement, which was developed from the data, suggests that engagement can be conceptualised as ranging from ‘coercive’ to ‘limited’ to ‘meaningful’. The findings suggest that workers’ engagement with children was influenced not just by factors within contact centres but by individuals’ personal values and the wider family justice system, which contact centres operate in. IMPLICATIONS: This research suggests that in the empirical context of child contact centres, the ‘Working Together’ guidance to organisations working with children does not in itself produce predictable effects which will fulfil the guidance aims. Rather, when the guidance combines with local factors it produces unexpected effects. The meaning that actors attributed to their actions was not static. Instead, socially constructed, local rationalities influenced how actors understood and experienced the process of protecting children. The findings contribute to the growing body of research which argues that policy makers need to focus, not simply on telling organisations what do, but on enabling them to do it. In addition, the findings contribute to the systems approach literature, which suggests that safety needs to be understood within the socio-technical system that actors inhabit.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Louise Caffrey
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Munro, Eileen

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