Perception of risk among child protection workers

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Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 30, Issue 7, pp. 699-704.

In this study, the authors sought to determine whether ratings on risk and recommendations for wardship varied as a function of social workers’ experience. Sixty-three social workers from a large urban southwestern Ontario child welfare agency participated. The sample was almost equally split between those workers with fewer than 3 years of experience and those with more than 3 years of experience. Social workers were randomly assigned to read two of eight vignettes and then rate the extent of risk present to the child using an abbreviated version of the Risk Assessment Model (RAM) used in Ontario to guide case management decisions. Workers were also asked to recommend whether the child in the vignette should be taken into care.

Results showed no significant differences between the cumulative risk scores of less experienced and more experienced social workers. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), controlling for cumulative risk score, revealed no significant difference between less experienced and more experienced workers in their recommendations to take a child into care. These findings are not consistent with previous research indicating that variability in case management decisions are, partly, attributable to level of experience. However, the authors note that this study compared social workers who were all within the same agency. They suggest that in-service training combined with the use of a risk assessment protocol might have mitigated the influence of experience. This implies that the training social workers receive may have the potential to counter the possible negative influences of less experience.

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