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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Intuition and child protection

Duncan Helm, a British researcher, has just published Making Sense of Child and Family Assessment. While I have yet to receive a copy (it is on the way) I am intrigued by an approach that he has taken in his work - that intuition does and must play a role in child protection decision making.

Such an idea runs counter to what has become the risk aversive atmosphere of child protection throughout the west. This has led to the introduction of more and more risk assessment tools which are not faring well under the scrutiny of researchers. Largely speaking, they are not yielding results that support them as being effective.

Social work is a human endeavor and, as such, requires human judgment. That requires assembling available data and making decisions. Intuition is part of that process but, as Professor Helm notes, not a valued or well researched part of it.

In an interview with the Herald Scotland, he stated, "Mr Helm argues that many social work leaders fear and try to prevent workers acting on intuition. After a series of high-profile failures in child protection, inquiries into cases which have gone wrong have compounded the problem....The human element at the core of good judgment seems to be getting written out.”

The article goes on to state, "When you have a gut feeling where do you go with that? “Workers say when they come to case notes and records there is no place to record gut feeling. But that sense that ‘I don’t know what this is but I know I’ve seen it before’, can be valuable.”

We need to enhance these skills so that experience can be used along side various other tools that enhance decision making. Denying the intuitive portion of decision making is to deny reality. Bravo to Prof. Helm for raising this.

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