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Home » Research Projects » Error, Blame and Responsibility in Child Welfare: Problematics of Governance in an Invisible Trade

Saving the children

How have mistakes affecting child safety been understood and dealt with by those charged with their care?

The social care of children involves inherently difficult issues of risk management, which are thrown up by every tragedy in which non-intervention or failure of monitoring by child care professionals leads to avoidable deaths of children. Accordingly, fears of media witch-hunts and professional infamy can lead to a heavy stress on blame avoidance, with every step taken with a glance over the shoulder and a finger firmly lodged in the rule book. At the same time, resources tend to be stretched – some inner London boroughs have 40% vacancy rates for child care professionals and managers are under pressure to deliver according to importunate targets and indicators. How can we improve understanding of how to handle the risks in this crucial domain of public services?

This study will look at how errors affecting child safety can be used as practical examples for improving practice and learning from mistakes, to better serve child safety, public services and interorganisational co-operation.

What the research means for policy-makers and the wider community

Research Methods

The central method of the study is to develop a ‘micro-world’ simulation, like a flight simulator for managers that will allow them to run experiments and test strategies from past cases to improve their understanding of outcomes. The scenarios built into the simulator will be designed from ethnographic fieldwork, but in general the experiment will involve the first line and middle manager role, in making choices over resourcing on the front-line of social services.

Data will be analysed and case material generated in three ways, comprising interviews, detailed field notes and recordings of meetings, and qualitative data. The data analysis will be supplemented by relevant theoretical notions from cognitive engineering and human reliability analysis, to provide realistic scenarios with which public service organisations can interact and learn from.

Project Outputs and Related Webpages

Project Poster 2009

Wastell, D., White, S., Broadhurst, K., Peckover, S., Pithouse, A. ‘ (2010) ‘Children’s services in the iron cage of performance management: street-level bureaucracy and the spectre of Švejkism’ International  Journal of Social Welfare 2010: 19: 310–320 

Wastell D. (2010) ‘ Managing as designing: ‘opportunity knocks’ for the IS field?‘ Opinion Piece, European Journal of Information Systems, online publication 1 June 2010

Broadhurst, K., Hall, C., Wastell, D., White, S. and Pithouse A. (2010) ‘Risk, Instrumentalism and the Humane Project in Social Work: Identifying the Informal Logics of Risk Management in Children’s Statutory Services‘, British Journal of Social Work 2010 40(4):1046-1064

White, S., Broadhurst, K., Wastell, D.,Peckover, S.; Hall, C.; Pithouse, A.(2009)., ‘Whither Practice-Near Research in the Modernization Programme? Policy Blunders in Children’s Services’, Journal of Social Work Practice, Volume 23 (4)December 2009 : 401 – 411

Wastell, D.; White, S.; Broadhurst, K.(2009)., “The Chiasmus of Design: Paradoxical Outcomes in the e-Government Reform of UK Children’s Service”, Information systems – creativity and innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises, Volume 301: 257-272.

Broadhurst, K., Wastell, D, White, S., Hall, C., Peckover, S., Pithouse, A., Thompson, K.,Davey, D. (2009) ‘Performing ‘initial assessment’ : Identifying the latent conditions for error at the front-door of local authority children’s services’, British Journal for Social Work (available free online 21/01/09)

Programme Discussion Paper DP0805: Managing Risk in a High Blame Environment: Making a ‘Flight Deck’ Simulation in Childcare

White, S.; Hall, C. and Peckover, S. (2008) The Descriptive Tyranny of the Common Assessment Framework: Technologies of Categorization and Professional Practice in Child Welfare, British Journal of Social Work, (Advance Access published April 16, 2008)

Peckover S., Hall, C., and White S. (2008)  From policy to practice : the implementation and negotiation of technologies in everyday child welfare, Children and Society, Vol 23 (2)

Hall C., Peckover, S. and White S. (May 2008) Social Work in the Information Age, Community Care

White S. and Broadhurst K. (2009) Raging Against the Machine, Practice , January, 9th 2009

White, S; Broadhurst, K. and Wastell, D, (2008) The shortfalls of IT in children’s services, Community Care, December 11th http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2008/12/11/110219/the-shortfalls-of-it-in-childrens-services.html

Media reports on findings from the project are available here.

Research Team

Susan White

Susan White

Sue White is Professor in Social Work at the University of Lancaster. She has worked as a practitioner, manager, educator and researcher in child health and welfare since 1983.

Email: s.j.white@lancaster.ac.uk

David Wastell

David Wastell

David Wastell is Professor of Information Systems at Nottingham University Business School and is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.

Email: David.Wastell@nottingham.ac.uk

Susan Peckover

Susan Peckover

Susan Peckover is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies at the University of Huddersfield.

Email: s.peckover@hud.ac.uk

Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall is Reader at the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies at the University of Huddersfield.

Email: c.j.hall@hud.ac.uk

Andrew Pithouse

Andrew Pithouse

Andrew Pithouse is Director of Social Work Studies at Cardiff University and a Visiting Professor at the Social Inclusion Research Unit, North East Wales Institute.

Email: Pithouse@cf.ac.uk