IntroductionOver the last two decades there havebeen concerns around social workers decision-making abilities in mental healthand children services which have led to changes in policies and servicestructure.
Examples of this are held in the death of Victoria Climbe, wherechanges were made in child protection such as the formation of Every ChildMatters programme – designed to improve the lives of children; and theintroduction of the Children Act 2004 – which have provided the legislativebase for many of the reforms (En.wikipedia.org, 2018).When a public inquiry is carried out,particular attention is always focus on social workers and the decisions theyhave made; and many professionals are asked to defend procedural practice (Stokesand Schmidt, 2012). However, less attention is given to the degree ofuncertainty social workers have to face when making decisions. Such as havingto make decisions on whether to remove a child from their family wheninformation is insufficient, unreliable, conflicting or at times missing(Stokes and Schmidt, 2012).Whilst there is a vast amount ofresearch and literature on child protection which offer theory to practice(Stokes and Schmidt, 2012).
Suchas Think child, think parent, think family which offers a conceptual framework forsocial workers to use when working with parents who have mental health problemsand their family (SCIE, 2012).There is minimal research on understandingthe decision-making process or how social workers make their decisions onparental mental health and capacity. Therefore, the aim of this research study isto examine how socialworkers across both agencies (i.e. Adult Mental Health and Children andFamilies) make decisions on parental mental health and capacity.Literature ReviewDecision?making has been defined as: ‘the act or process of choosing a preferredoption or course of action from a set of alternatives. It precedes andunderpins almost all deliberate or voluntary behaviour’ (Colman, 2006, p.
192).Rouf et al (2011,p175) argues that ‘professionals are systematically biased intheir judgements and are influenced by emotion, framing and social factors’.Although, they are encouraged through training to use their rational andanalytical skills in their decision making, this is not always utilised (Roufet al, 2011). Evidence of this, have been shown in Lamming and Munro’s reportwhere professionals have relied on inductive processes (i.e.
previousexperience, intuition) when making their decisions, which have led to seriousimplications in terms of a child safety and wellbeing (Roufet al, 2011).Munro’s report (1999) found commonerrors in social workers’ reasoning and decision?making, such as discounting evidencethat contradicts the professional’s view of the family (Roufet al, 2011). She argues ‘that there isan interaction between internal mechanisms of decision?making and externaldemands’ (Rouf et al,2011, p175). For example, when an individual is faced with large volumes ofinformation, they sometimes take a mental shortcut. Especially if they are feelingoverwhelmed by the range of important information needed to assess a family (Roufet al, 2011).
With that being said research by Ling and Luker (2000) have found intuitionor gut feeling in the decision-making process can be positive and can lead to improvementswithin decision?making. Asevidence in their study has shown that professionals’ feelings have helped toalert them to child protection concerns (Rouf et al, 2011).However, there are mixed findings aboutthis because professionals who are led by emotions are seen to be riskier in theirwork (Rouf et al, 2011). A study done by Kelly and Milner (1996) found that professionalswho were led by emotions took more risks to preserve mother and childrelationship when there was certainty that the child would be removed. Theyalso noted that professionals in this situation were often face with deciding betweentwo imperfect and uncertain options, which made decision?making hard and complex (Rouf et al, 2011).
McConnell et al. (2006) examined the decision?making process in child protection caseswhere parents had a disability (sensory, learning or mental illness); thisrevealed professional judgement and actions were influence by ‘perceptions on neglect, parental compliancewithin the child protection process, the fear of public criticism (which oftenled to defensive practice) and pressure on resources’ (Rouf et al, 2011: p176). Research QuestionsMain question: How do social workersfrom adult mental health and children and families make their decisions on parentalmental health and capacity Sub questions: · Whatfactors influence their professional judgement and actions?· Whendoes a parent’s mental health pose a risk to their child?AimThe primary aim of my research is toexplore how social workers within Adult Mental Healthand Children and Families make decisions on parental mental health and capacity.Objectives· To usevignettes to examine what factors influence professionals’ judgments and actions,when decisions are made on parental mental health and capacity.· To interviewfive social workers from each agency i.e. Adult Mental and Children andFamilies in the same borough.MethodIn order to examine how social workersin mental health and children and families make their decisions on parentalmental health and capacity, it is important that I use a research process that replicatesthe circumstances of daily decision making (Stokes and Schmidt, 2012).
However, it is unethical and impossibleto assess decision-making process experimentally with social worker and serviceuser in their natural environment (Evans et al, 2015). Therefore, vignette methodologymay be the best way to examine how social workers in adult mental health andchildren families make decisions on parental mental health and capacity. According to Evanset al (2015) the use of vignette-based methodologies can offer a unique wayto examine professional judgments and decision-making processes. This isbecause vignette-based studies offer aglimpse into how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and decisions areaffected by factors that may not be easily accessible in real-life situationsbecause of confounding sources of variability that cannot be controlled’ (Evans et al, 2015: p161).However,there are some limitations in its construct and external validity, which needsto be considered. For example, to what the extent can the written stimulus andparticipants’ responses to it, accurately represent what is happening in the”real world” (Evans et al, 2015).
Criticalquestions like this, need to be considered within the design and evaluation of thestudy (Evans et al, 2015).Ethical considerationsSince the research will involve interviewingprofessionals from different agencies (i.e. adult mental health and childrenand families) and using vignettes to examine their professional judgement andactions when making decision on parental mental health and capacity. It is important to consider that theremay be ethical issues whenconducting my research, therefore I aim to consider the following principlesheld and supported by Beauchampand Childless (2001):· Informedconsent – participants will be free to make their own decisions about whetherthey wish to participant in the study (either before or during process). Participantswill have the option to refuse or withdraw from study at any stage.
Respectwill be given to participants in terms of consent and confidentiality. Participants will be provided with aninformation sheet which will explain the reasons for the research; their participationis voluntary and they can withdraw from the interview process at any time withoutgiving a reason, and without fear of any consequences; their responses will bekept anonymous in the thesis resulting from the research; and that anysubsequent publications that might arise or any information provided by themwill be kept confidential (Moore, 2016). In addition, participants will be giventhe options as to choose whether they like their responses to be recorded orwritten down; and reassured that in either method, their details will remain anonymousand protected using numeric code (Moore, 2016).
· Researchwill not cause harm – since the research is examining people’s judgement and actionswhen making decisions parental mental health and capacity, this might raise sensitive views or opinions; or recollectionsand experiences that the participant might find upsetting (Moore, 2016).Therefore, the participant has the option to withdraw from the interviewingprocess at any stage. If participants became noticeablydistressed during the interview process, then interview will be stopped, and theparticipant will be given the opportunity to either to continue or to end the process(Moore, 2016). · Researchwill benefit others – since there is no personal award gained from participatingin this study. Participant will be informed of this in the information sheetand that benefits from this study may help improve training, assessment andservice provision in the interest of safeguarding children and supportingvulnerable families.Policy and practice implicationsThe professional judgments and decisionsmade by social workers in mental health and children and families can have hugeimplications for service users, their children and governments officials (Evanset al, 2015). Therefore, examining what influences professional judgements andactions when making decisions on parental mental health and capacity, can us providean insight into what enriches or hinders professionals’ decisions making.
Aswell as help improve training, assessment and service provision in the interestof safeguarding children and supporting vulnerable families (Rouf, et al 2011).