‘I know how it sounds on paper’ : risk talk, the use of documents and epistemic justice in child protection assessment home visits
child and family social work
Subject Categories::L500 Social Work
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AbstractSocial workers carry much of the frontline authority to define risk to children and discuss it with families. Assessment reports and other institutional documents record professional views about family information, and also have the potential to convey the ‘voice’ of the family to institutions. Social workers have responsibility for sharing these documents with families, yet little is known about how they do this. This paper focuses on episodes when social workers introduce institutional documents in home visits, and on the family responses elicited. These are high-stakes encounters which, when they go seriously wrong, emerge in the press as tragedies and scandals. For families, these documents carry an emotional depth-charge as intimate, potentially shaming, and sometimes inaccurate details of their lives are inscribed in them by and for others. Latour’s (1996) concept of interobjectivity sheds light on the use of documents, while concepts of epistemic authority (Heritage and Raymond, 2005) and epistemic injustice (Fricker, 2007) are employed to examine how social workers respond to parental testimony about themselves and their children. Learning how to present institutional documentation in ways that reduce the risk of emotional reactivity and treating family perspectives with epistemic justice may enhance social work practice. At a policy level, the design of documents warrants review, so that they facilitate rather than obstruct social workers’ efforts to build what are already fragile relationships with families.
CitationBostock L, Koprowska J (2022) '‘I know how it sounds on paper’ : risk talk, the use of documents and epistemic justice in child protection assessment home visits', Qualitative Social Work, 21 (6), pp.1147-1166.
JournalQualitative Social Work
SponsorsThis research was funded by the Department for Education’s Children Social Care Innovation Programme, England, United Kingdom. Funding for re-analysis was provided by the University of Bedfordshire Research Excellence Framework (REF) support fund.
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