Child protection; child welfare; emotion; mistakes at work; professional emergencies; professionals; social services; social work


This paper analyzes the emerging field of government mandated child protection, the work's design, and the public crisis caused by public airing of its mistakes. The cycle of reacting to public revulsion at errors,followed by a return to "business as usual" persists despite official, government inquiries and the social work profession identified with the protection of children. The risk of working in a highly emotional area is discussed through the sociology of "mistakes at work," or professional emergencies. This work balances risks with advantages of evoking emotions. The risk comes from the negative emotions associated with official failures seen by the public as tragic mistakes or worse. In the past four decades social work has become vulnerable to public outcries when a child is killed when supposedly protected. The management of that risk is relatively new to the profession and it has not responded effectively. The sources of child fatalities within the child welfare system are at least partly due to the design of the system, its daily work routines and the central role of the profession in the emerging field of child protection. These routines are described with an analysis of how they contribute to failures. Recommendations for system change are suggested.

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