This thesis addressesth e impact of the child abusei nquiries of the mid-late 1980so n policy
and practice in the field of childcare. Challenging social workers' claims for expertise in this
area of work, these inquiries created a significant legitimation crisis for the profession,
fracturing prior commitments and modes of knowledge and informing an increasingly
bureaucratised approach to the protection of children. Located at the centre of such
developments, the role of child protection coordinator carried a complex agenda, with
rationally framed role responsibilities being throughout infused by the intense anxieties
surrounding this area of work. Thus, drawing on interviews with 14 coordinators, together
with contemporary documentary and academic materials, this thesis provides a detailed
analysis of post-inquiry child protection policies and practices. Firstly, referring to
sociological theories of risk, the contradictory recommendations of the Beckford and
Cleveland reports are located in the discursive split between `determinate' and `reflexive'
approaches to knowledge. Secondly, psychoanalytical concepts are used to analyse the
complex emotional climate provoked by these inquiries and the, ultimately regressive,
professional retreat into a somewhat victimised stance. Thirdly, analysis of the coordinators'
accounts reveals the inter-penetration of these discursive and emotional trajectories across
both social services and interagency contexts. Whilst confirming the dominance of
defensively driven practices, this analysis also identifies the persistence of other, more
reflectively framed, developments. Fourthly, the extreme, and contrasting, patterns of career
identity evidenced in the coordinators' texts are perceived as reflecting the internalisation of
variant discursive and emotional themes, whilst also exposing an unthinkable core at the heart
of this work. Finally, extending the analysis to other contemporary sources, the conclusion
addressesth e associativel ink betweent heseu nthinkable anxieties and the failure of expertise,
with the recommendations stemming from this research addressing the necessary
interpretative underpinning to any possibility of change.
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