Missing Data, Complex Processes and Differing Contexts: A Case File Analysis of School Staff's Involvement in Child Protection Cases for Concerns of Neglect

Vicky Sharley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

This paper reports the findings from the analysis of 119 children's social work case files from three local authorities in Wales. The study offers new understanding about the extent of school staff's involvement in the provision of statutory support when there are concerns that a child is living with neglect. Findings demonstrate evidence of a broad range of early and preventative school-based support provided in 42 per cent of the sample, some gaps in schools' contributions to statutory assessments and a decline in the level of involvement of members of school staff following the initial child protection conference. The discussion also acknowledges a number of challenges encountered during the study: the complexity of social work processes, the variance in understandings of neglect within differing regional contexts and large amounts of missing data on children's files and the restrictions this created for statistical measurement. Findings have important implications for interprofessional relationships between schools and social work teams, at individual and agency levels. The author makes a call for social workers to actively engage members of school staff in child protection processes with the purpose of increasing information sharing across agencies, while enhancing interprofessional safeguarding practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-457
Number of pages14
JournalChild Abuse Review
Volume30
Issue number5
Early online date24 Sep 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research project, SCS-14-08, was funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales and undertaken at Cardiff University. The author would like to thank the Directors of Children's Services in each of the three participating local authorities. Without their interest, commitment and enthusiasm, this research would not have been possible.

Funding Information:
This research project, SCS-14-08, was funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales and undertaken at Cardiff University. The author would like to thank the Directors of Children's Services in each of the three participating local authorities. Without their interest, commitment and enthusiasm, this research would not have been possible. Ethical approval was obtained from Cardiff University's Research Ethics Committee in April 2015. The explicit consent to access case files was not sought from individual children because the research question was not focused upon the individual child and their experiences, but upon the nature and level of involvement of professionals within the organisation's statutory process. Due to the sensitive nature and complex construction of neglect, there would have been substantial difficulty in deciding who was best situated to give consent and who owns the data, particularly given the substantial amounts of personal information contained in case files about other family members (Shaw & Holland,?2014). Seeking consent from a parent would have meant asking the person responsible for the act of neglect to give permission, risking the likelihood of incomplete evidence and an increase in bias in the sample (Hayes & Devaney,?2004). For these reasons, consent was sought from the Heads of Services in accordance with their data protection policies. This decision took the ethical viewpoint that evidence-based knowledge gained about professional practice was in the public interest, outweighing the potential harm caused to the individual and their right to privacy (Teater et al.,?2017). Each local authority was asked to identify up to 50 case files (n?=?150) that met the following sampling criteria: (i) the school had referred the child to protection services; (ii) the child was of school age; and (iii) the child was on the child protection register under the category of neglect at the initial child protection conference (ICPC). Seven documents were analysed from the case files at key stages of the child protection process to gather binary data: (i) initial referral from the school; (ii) initial assessment made by social services; (iii) strategy discussion and related s.47 enquiry (?under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, where a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives or is found in their area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, it has a duty to make such enquiries as it considers necessary to decide whether to take any action to safeguard or promote the child's welfare? (HM Government,?2018, p. 22)); (iv) assessment; (v) minutes from the initial child protection conference (ICPC); (vi) minutes from the first core group; and (vii) minutes from the child protection review conference (CPRC). However, due to the small populations within the three participating Welsh authorities, only 142 files met the sampling criteria. After the data had been cleaned and prepared for analysis, the total sample was reduced to 119. These files (n?=?21) were removed prior to analysis because they either did not meet the study's sampling criteria (belonging to the children's younger siblings who were not yet of school-age), or they contained no data aside from the child's name and age (n?=?2). Data were systematically recorded on a coding schedule, before being transferred to a single electronic dataset in IBM SPSS software. The values for each variable were entered in numerical format. Binary variables were coded 0 (no) or 1 (yes). Nominal and ordinal variables were assigned consecutive values, while continuous data, such as the child's date of birth, were entered as scale variables. ?The total sample was reduced to 119? All 22 authorities were contacted to invite them to participate in the study. Out of the eight who wished to participate, three local authorities were chosen in accordance with the following principles of selection to provide a diverse sample: (i) their geographical position; (ii) a low, average or high rate of children registered on the child protection register (CPR); (iii) a low or high rate of children registered under the category of neglect; and (iv) a low, average or high rate of deprivation on the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) (within the most deprived 10% Lower Super Output Area) (LSOA) (Stats Wales,?2019). Wales is a small country with a population of around 3 million, so for purposes of confidentiality and anonymity each local authority was allocated a pseudonym that reflected their geographic characteristic (?Urban Authority,? ?Rural Authority? and ?Valleys Authority?), and each file was assigned a research study number. Ethical approval was obtained from Cardiff University's Research Ethics Committee in April 2015. The explicit consent to access case files was not sought from individual children because the research question was not focused upon the individual child and their experiences, but upon the nature and level of involvement of professionals within the organisation's statutory process. Due to the sensitive nature and complex construction of neglect, there would have been substantial difficulty in deciding who was best situated to give consent and who owns the data, particularly given the substantial amounts of personal information contained in case files about other family members (Shaw & Holland,?2014). Seeking consent from a parent would have meant asking the person responsible for the act of neglect to give permission, risking the likelihood of incomplete evidence and an increase in bias in the sample (Hayes & Devaney,?2004). For these reasons, consent was sought from the Heads of Services in accordance with their data protection policies. This decision took the ethical viewpoint that evidence-based knowledge gained about professional practice was in the public interest, outweighing the potential harm caused to the individual and their right to privacy (Teater et al.,?2017). All data were collected over a period of six weeks during early 2016. Electronic case files were accessed within each of the child protection departments in the three local authorities. Descriptive statistics were produced through the production of frequency tables which offered an overview of the nature and level of involvement of school staff in responding to child neglect in the child protection system. Cross tabulations were run to test the association between variables with a view to building a logistic regression model to estimate the probability of a child who was living with neglect, receiving support from the school. Variables were chosen based upon the prevalence of existing literature on child neglect, as having impact on services provided (Jonson-Reid et al.,?2007; Nohilly,?2019). ?All data were collected over a period of six weeks during early 2016? Chi-square analyses were run to explore whether school-based support (prior to or during the child protection process) was associated with gender; type of education provision (mainstream or alternative); school type (primary or secondary); number of siblings on CPP; previous registrations on CPP; and whether further concerns of neglect were raised within the local authorities' initial assessment. All chi-square tests were found to be not statistically significant (at p?<.05 level). The absence of significant associations meant it was not possible to run the regression model as anticipated. It is possible that the high levels of missing data impacted the quality and consistency of the data available for analysis. This could be attributed to the small sample size within this study (due to low regional populations) as well as the quality and content of the case files in the sample. More boys (58%) were identified as living with neglect than girls (n?=?119). All referral documents cited at least two or more concerns that were held about a child. Unsurprisingly, educational neglect (51%) was the most commonly cited type of neglect (given schools were the referring agency). This was closely followed by physical neglect (45%), other forms of abuse (40%) (physical, sexual and emotional), lack of supervision and guidance (35%), medical neglect (16%), nutritional neglect (13%) and emotional neglect (7%) (see Table?1). ?More boys (58%) were identified as living with neglect than girls? The majority of children (73%) in the sample were more likely to be of primary school age (M?=?9.1?years, SD?=?3.1), had not been on a child protection plan (CPP) before (58%) and were from a White British background (88%, slightly lower than the White population in Wales 96%) (Stats Wales,?2019). Findings correspond with literature suggesting boys are more represented than girls in terms of the prevalence of neglect (Egry et al.,?2015) and physical neglect is often more easily observed on a child than any other type of neglect within the school-setting (Horwath & Tarr,?2015). The average age of children in the sample was nine years old. This could suggest that physical neglect is more recognised in children before they reach adolescence (Rees et al.,?2011), or perhaps connected to the broadly held view that primary schools are able to offer a greater ?culture of care? (Nohilly,?2019). It may simply reflect that the most common age for a child to be on the child protection register in Wales is five to nine years old (NSPCC,?2021).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Children and Families Research Centre

Keywords

  • casefiles
  • interprofessional
  • protection
  • neglect
  • schools

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Missing Data, Complex Processes and Differing Contexts: A Case File Analysis of School Staff's Involvement in Child Protection Cases for Concerns of Neglect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this