‘I don’t want my face on the front page of The Sun’: The ‘Baby P effect’ as a barrier to social worker discretion.

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Abstract

Purpose: The backdrop to the Munro Review of Child Protection was a narrative propagated in the British national press, and perpetuated particularly by the then opposition Conservative Party, that the case of ‘Baby P’ evidenced that the English child protection system was ‘failing’ and in need of reform. Subsequently, the review asserted that the system had become ‘over-bureaucratised’ and ‘defensive’ at the expense of social worker discretion in the interests of the individual child, highlighting the need for ‘radical reform’. This paper reports on the extent of, and continued barriers to, social worker discretion within the contemporary English child protection.
Design/methodology/approach: An ethnographic case study of a single English child protection team, the study employed a sequential and iterative mixed method design, encompassing observation, document analysis, focus groups, questionnaire, interviews and ‘Critical Realist Grounded Theory’.
Findings: The study found that social worker discretion was continuing to be undermined by the ‘Baby P effect’; not only in the sense of increasing numbers of children within the system, but also by the perpetual fear of being ‘named’, ‘blamed’ and ‘shamed’, akin to Peter Connelly’s social workers.
Originality: The paper considers how discretion is manifested in contemporary child protection, especially in the context of the ‘child-centred’ system envisaged by the Munro Review. It concludes that the British media and politicians have a continued role to play in reducing the risk associated with the social worker’s discretionary space.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Children's Services
Early online date28 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Baby P effect
  • child protection
  • discretion
  • media
  • Munro Review
  • social work

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