Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Department

Social Work

Supervisor

Roy Cain

Co-Supervisor

Gary Dumbrill

Language

English

Committee Member

Sara Greene

Abstract

When Ontario Child Welfare Transformation was initiated a new risk assessment document was implemented. This study explored the opinions of protection staff on the present risk assessment. Participants’ negative opinions about the document contrast sharply with their enthusiasm over transformation initiatives and illustrate a paradox between the document and transformation goals. Their concerns for the document and the standardized approach of the document centre on the theme of what is lost in the approach. In particular, they spoke to the present risk assessment missing assessment of the strengths and protective factors, which could mitigate risk and that it fails to capture the spirit and goals of transformation. They expressed concern that it misses the whole picture, social context and ambiguity of many situations. It fails to account for progress, adaptation and flexibility and instead focuses on static, fixed and unchangeable factors. They expressed concern for a lack of written or area for workers to explain context. Workers noted that the families’ views are absent in the fixed categories, as well they questioned claims for the documents accuracy. Workers also noted that the standardized and rigid approach of the document failed to take into account structural and anti oppressive considerations. As a result, workers felt much was lost from the document.

Workers found ways to resist their assessments being constrained. Their attempts to assess risk outside the box were varied and creative and made use of a wide range of tools, paradigms and experiences. Workers own assessments of risk, were more consistent with transformation initiatives than that of the document. Workers offered suggestions as to how they would improve risk assessments in child protection.

The shifts in paradigms in child protection, the debate over the “how to” assess for risk, and the factors presently absent on the risk assessment, highlight possibilities of other ways of assessing risk and intervening. This study offers an interpretive account of the present actuarial risk assessment document from the perspective of protection staff. The concerns raised with the document, infuse the paper with critical questions regarding the objectivity and validity of positivistic approaches, the utility and futility of standardized approaches, and existence of competing claims and discourses regarding risks to children. Their concerns beg the question, could there be other possibilities to assess risk and intervene in a manner more consistent with transformation initiatives and anti oppressive practice?

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