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Deconstructing discourses in assessments of child neglect

Casey, B.A.; Hackett, S.

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B.A. Casey


This article presents the findings of a qualitative study exploring how child neglect is ‘performed’ in social work practice. Informed by Foucauldian and feminist theoretical positions, semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten local authority social workers, eight Children’s Centre professionals in England and eight parents who had received professional intervention due to concerns about child neglect. In addition, ten case files were analysed where child neglect was a substantive concern. This article explores the discourses that were produced in social workers’ assessments of child neglect. In a neo-liberal context in which cuts are being made to childcare services, professionals were preoccupied with the identification and management of neglectful families by risk. Professional debates surrounding contested thresholds into services and categorisation of neglectful families are explored. Judgements of ‘good enough’ mothering as well as bureaucratic and managerial constraints to holistic, analytical and quality assessments are identified. The article also explores the bureaucratic performance of children’s assessed identities through which children become the objects of the assessment rather than active subjects. The article concludes with recommendations for practice and future research.


Casey, B., & Hackett, S. (2021). Deconstructing discourses in assessments of child neglect. The British Journal of Social Work, 51(6), 2097-2115.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 10, 2021
Online Publication Date Mar 12, 2021
Publication Date 2021-09
Deposit Date Feb 23, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jan 12, 2022
Journal British Journal of Social Work
Print ISSN 0045-3102
Electronic ISSN 1468-263X
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 51
Issue 6
Pages 2097-2115


Published Journal Article (216 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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