A Short Psychosocial History of British Child Abuse and Protection: Case Studies in Problems of Mourning in the Public Sphere


Cooper, Andrew 2014. A Short Psychosocial History of British Child Abuse and Protection: Case Studies in Problems of Mourning in the Public Sphere. Journal of Social Work Practice. 28 (3), pp. 271-285. https://doi.org/10.1080/02650533.2014.927842
AuthorsCooper, Andrew

This paper offers a historical and psychosocial account of ‘moral panics’ about child maltreatment in England over the last four decades, and proposes this perspective as additional to Eileen Munro’s more systemic account of the same history. The formal child protection system is theorised in terms of an explicit and a covert dual primary task. The overt task is to actually protect vulnerable children and prevent abuse; the covert task is to protect the remainder of society from exposure to anxiety provoking ‘dangerous knowledge’ about the prevalence of child maltreatment. Episodes of public and political moral panic occur when the boundaries of containment provided by the official system and its processes are breached, propelling debate and contestation about child maltreatment into the public sphere, where public enquiries and other social mechanisms are called upon to ‘settle’ the contested issues. Sometimes these social settlements appear to be successful in resolving conflicts about the reality or otherwise of specific forms of abuse; in other cases, especially child deaths, the controversial and anxiety laden-nature of the problem is recurrently projected back into the public domain. The paper suggests that this may be associated with a difficulty about establishing a secure symbolic framework or discourse in society for the emotionally indigestible facts of child torture and murder . In turn this may be associated with problems about the decline of public mourning rituals, and the failure of the public enquiry format to facilitate this. In line with Munro, the paper argues for the importance of a tragic perspective on child maltreatment, to counter idealisations of the capacity of the formal system to protect children.

JournalJournal of Social Work Practice
Journal citation28 (3), pp. 271-285
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Accepted author manuscript
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1080/02650533.2014.927842
Web address (URL)https://doi.org/10.1080/02650533.2014.927842
Publication dates
Print27 Jun 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited07 Sep 2017
Copyright information© 2017 Taylor and Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Social Work Practice on 27 June 2014, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/02650533.2014.927842
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