Article type: Original Research

PUBLISHED 1 January 1985

Volume 9 Issue 4

The Future of Decision Making in Child Welfare Practice: The Development of an Explicit Criteria Model for Decision Making

Barbara J. Meddin

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The paper examines the impact that a decision making model can have on child placement decisions. Using a pre and post test design with three different conditions, the research investigated the ability to increase the consistency of the placement decision by the use of a decision making model that includes explicit criteria.

The study found that consistency of decision making was enhanced by the provision of the decision making model and that consistency could be further enhanced by the provision of training in the model. Implications for training of new workers and reduction of worker stress and burnout are discussed.

The incident of child abuse and neglect continues to rise. The National Centre on Child Abuse and Neglect estimates that approximately one million children will be abused or neglected this year in the United States. In the State of Illinois alone, during fiscal year 1981 nearly 80,000 reports of abuse or neglect were received. Almost 50% of those reports were found to be actual cases of abuse or neglect.

Whether the incident in Australia of child abuse and neglect is increasing or not is difficult to assess, since currently there is no standardised way of collecting data. However, from all indicators a similar increase is indeed occurring. Boss in his book, “On the Side of the Child”, reports that the number of cases seen by the Western Australian Department of Community Welfare has steadily increased. This is corroborated by statistics compiled by that State’s Advisory and Consultative Committee in Child Abuse (ACCCA). Their Statistical Information Report for July-December 1983 indicates an 86% increase in reports of sexual abuse and 12.5% increase in physical abuse. In Queensland the number of child abuse and/or neglect case investigations went from 1 095 in 1981 to 1 631 in 1982 – an increase of more than one third. In Tasmania between 1980 to 1982 the number of reports increased by nearly one-third, from 228-302. The Montrose Child Protection and Family Crisis Unit of the Department of Youth and Community Services in New South Wales report similar increases.

On almost a daily basis, social workers are called upon to make far reaching decisions that have the potential to be a life consequential both for the child who is the victim of abuse and/or neglect and that child’s family. Because these decisions, especially the placement decision, have such great ramifications, social workers should be expected to make decisions with great care, consideration and consistency. This may be due, in part because agencies have been slow to explicate, empirically validate, and systematically apply decision making criteria that assist workers in making case decisions.

While research indicates that criteria do exist and are used by child welfare workers, the research also indicates that they are not used in any systematic fashion. The result is that idiosyncratic decisions are invited and the potential spectre of gross inequities in the delivery of social services exists. Unless asystematic, consensually based decision making model is used that explicates both the decisions that need to be made along with a specific set of criteria for making these decisions, it is impossible for the child welfare agency to guarantee a minimum level of service delivery.

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