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This essay is a review of a research article of how Local Authority Social workers make decisions when they are considering referrals of children. The title of the study is “Threshold Decisions: How Social Workers Prioritize Referrals of Child Concern” by Dendy Platt (2008). I would attempt to critically appraise this Qualitative journal article based on essential elements of the research which include the Title, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Findings and Conclusion. The study examined how social workers make choices on individual cases of children concern referrals, if to carry out a an initial Assessment i.e. Sect 17 of the Children Act 1989 or if to undertake the Child Protection Procedure under the Sect. 47 of the Children Act 1989. The major finding suggests that Social workers prioritize their referrals based on five key areas, “Specificity, Severity, risk, parental responsibility and corroboration. It was refreshing to know that data were collected from Social workers and that Parents were also involved.
It is worth noting that the title adequately prepares the reader as it gives good insight into what the study is about. The title of an article is very important as it exposes the reader to an article. The key words were appropriate and sufficient as they did retrieve the article upon typing the key words in the search engine. (According to Descombe 2008 p.88), a topic needs to be a very much more narrowly defined area of its study.
The major finding in this article suggests that social workers evaluate referrals based on five key factors, “specificity, severity, risk, parental responsibility and corroboration”. It is worth noting the abstract did prepare a reader for this study. The abstract clearly highlights that the aim of the study is to find out how social workers reach decision when to carry out an initial assessment (Sect 17 of children act 1989) or a core assessment, (Sect 47 of children Act 1989) when considering referrals about child concerns.
The abstract clearly stated that the study chose a qualitative approach. According to (Punch 2000 p. 243), qualitative approach is “often sensitive to context and process to lived experience and local groundedness, where the researcher tries to get closer to what is being studied”. Using qualitative method allows the researcher to find out a lot about the study. He went further to explain that”qualitative research methods are the best way we have of getting the insider’s perspective” (Ibid)
Qualitative method allows the researcher to generate new theoretical ideas. This happens because they are able to observe and speak to the people (person) being studied and allows them to come up with new ideas through out the study. Being bias is one of the limitations of qualitative research method because researchers can write their own view or even opinion on the matter. But as we can see that reaching difficult area is a great advantage to qualitative research method.)
Looking at the introduction, it seems clear that the problem that led to the research was that the interpretation of the developments of the refocusing initiative has contributed to a climate where social workers work often feel “pulled and pushed in different directions by political and popular opinion.
The introduction touched on relevant government policies and initiatives such as “refocusing initiative which was initiated by the government in 1990 and the framework for Assessment of children in need.
In my view, the author attempted to appraise the refocusing initiative policy which attempts to refocus social work practice and to initiate any necessary changes. I partly agree with this notion as the study may bring about positive changes in the child protection climate. But also the author needs to acknowledge where he points on that the climate of child protection is one of uncertainty, that social work itself is a profession full of uncertainty….
The researcher explained that the implication of the “refocusing initiative” is the rise in the threshold for acceptance of a child protection referral as it was thought that the cost to family of child protection procedures were not acceptable in the cases where allegations are minor.
In my view, the identification of gap of knowledge shows that the problem has significance for social work practice and the research may positively inform practice. Interestingly, the researcher acknowledges and analyses previous work on the child protection field ( what is known) but also points out the knowledge gap as it demonstrates how application of these factors differs between cases of child concern and cases of child protection (What is desired to be known). I would argue that these reasons amount to sufficiently justification of this study.
Knowledge gap was identified but author did not explain how his work would attempt to close the gap. Author made an effort to critically review the work of others and points out inconsistencies. The purpose of the research is to examine ways social workers in England made decisions at the initial referral stage. It is my believe that since the author decided to collect information form social workers and families suggest that research is from a grounded theory approach.
According to Punch (2000 p.163) Grounded theory is best defined as a research strategy whose purpose is to generate theory from data, To be grounded means basically the theory is generated from data. (ibid)
My rational for asserting that a grounded theory approach was implemented is that the author made sense of the data through concepts primarily informed by social workers and the discovery of these concepts begins from the interviews with the social workers. (Somekh and Lewin 2006p.49) point out that grounded theory is best described as an “integrated theoretical formulation that gives understanding about how organization experience and respond to events that occur”. From this definition, it could be argued that grounded theory was the most effective way to approach this study.
“Researchers do bring perspective to the research, although these perspectives tend to guide the question and influence interpretation, but they don’t drive the research.” (ibid p.51).
However one of the drawbacks from this approach is that research may be influenced by the researcher’s personal experiences and previous studies which thus disable the research in approaching the study with an open mind.
In my view, the researcher study has a strong internal validity, the researcher made a good effort to eliminate the alternative explanations in his findings…. The result however cannot be applied beyond the sample. It would be clearly naïve to believe that the findings reflect how social workers in the UK decision making.
The Researcher implemented ethical principles. The social workers involved have to be made aware of what they were getting into before deciding to collaborate. I would argue that appropriate procedures were implemented; also the participant understood what the purpose of the research.
The researcher effectively anonymised participants’ identities, which protected participants’ privacy. The likely outcome the research aim to achieve include possible changes in policy, examine practice issues for social workers carrying out initial assessment, where in the past, it would have been a child abuse investigation ( Sect 47 of the children Act 1989)
“One of the strengths of case study is that multiple methods and data sources can be used to explore and interrogate case study thereby leading to a good description of a research from the perspective of the participant” (Someth and Lewin 2006 p.33). I do admire the fact that the research implemented the case study approach as this gives the reader a very rich description of the study and also gives a reader a good understanding on the issue.
Reliability of the finding was promoted by the data collection from two local authorities who have a very different procedures and practice, also All interviews were tape- recorded. According to (Silverman 2006p. 285), “working with the audio and video recordings eliminates at one stroke many of the problems that researchers have with the unspecified accuracy of field notes and limited public access to them”
However the generalization of the research may not be possible. “The weakness of case study is that it is not possible to generalize statistically from a small number of cases to a population as a whole” (Someth and Lewin 2006 p.34)
- Punch, K.F. (2000) Introduction to Social Research Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. London: Sage Publication.
- Somekh, B. and Lewin, C. (2006) Research Methods in the Social Sciences. Sage Publication: London.
- Silverman, D. (2006) 2nd Edition. Qualitative Research. Theory, Method and Practice. Sage Publication: London.
- Denscombe, M. (2008) Ground Rules for Good Research, a 10 guide for social researchers. Open University: Buckingham.
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