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At Risk

At Risk: Social Justice in Child Welfare and Other Human Services

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 259
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  • Book Info
    At Risk
    Book Description:

    InAt Risk, Karen J. Swift and Marilyn Callahan examine risk and risk assessment in the context of professional practice in child protection, social work, and other human services.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9791-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    This vignette could be viewed as just another child welfare investigation, one of the many thousands taking place every year in Canada. As reported in theCanadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect(Trocmé et al., 2005), a total of 130,594 such investigations took place in 2003, many of which would have resembled this one. On the other hand, this story can be treated in a way that makes visible a considerable amount of information about ruling and the power relations related to risk – the subjects of our book. Since we were fortunate enough to meet and speak...

  5. Part I

    • 1 The Social Relations of Risk
      (pp. 19-40)

      Risk invites us to worry, to think ahead, to create detailed pictures in our minds of things thatmighthappen, to experience in imagination the gamut of possible outcomes, to ‘go through’ some terrible things on our way to deciding what to do about a possible given situation. We calculate risks on a regular if informal basis in our everyday lives. The simple acts of driving, eating, walking, and allowing our children to surf the web involve estimations of risks that might be involved. Often, we will have been exposed to information through the media or from ‘experts’ about the...

    • 2 From Social to Individual Risk
      (pp. 41-60)

      Human service professionals in many Western democracies are acutely aware of changes that have taken place in our ‘social safety net’ over the past two or three decades. These changes, generally associated with neoliberal government, have been marked by substantial cutbacks in funding, the eradication of many social programs, long waiting lists for services, the delisting of previously accessible publicly funded services, and the ‘outsourcing’ of programs and tasks to private organizations, both non-profit and for profit. There is widespread awareness that this trend has taken hold not only in Canada but also in the welfare states of Europe and...

    • 3 Risk and Social Welfare
      (pp. 61-85)

      When entering the Fraser Valley¹ in British Columbia, a vast expanse of rich farmland close by the city of Vancouver, it is impossible to ignore the soupy pale yellow haze that hangs over the valley on most days. At a glance, it’s easy to agree with Beck that everyone in the valley is equally plagued by the quality of the air. However, this is deceptive. People with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and those who are either very young or very old are more likely to suffer as the smog alert rises.² Outdoor workers, especially those with jobs requiring strenuous physical...

    • 4 The Entrenchment of Risk Assessment in Human Services
      (pp. 86-114)

      Risk is a staple feature of human services. Professionals such as nurses, social workers, and psychologists often work with people whose lives are filled with challenges and problems and who have few resources to address them. The potential for ‘bad things to happen’ can be just around the corner. Not surprisingly, human service professionals express the desire to prevent problems rather than to apply bandaids after the fact. For them, calculating and addressing ‘the risks’ sound like promising activities designed to achieve this professional aim.

      In recent decades risk has assumed a much more central role in professional thinking and...

  6. Part II

    • 5 The Institutional World
      (pp. 117-143)

      Risk assessment depends on the categorization of people on the basis of risk scores. It is hardly new to social work and allied professions to categorize people for purposes of deciding how to intervene with them; risk assessment seems to be the latest ‘technology’ supporting this approach. In this chapter we focus on child welfare work in British Columbia and Ontario, but we also provide a broader picture of the issues across Canada and other Western countries. As part of this scan, we introduce the people who are most frequently reported to child welfare agencies for abusing or neglecting their...

    • 6 In the Name of Risk
      (pp. 144-177)

      According to the review of risk assessment tools carried out by Rycus and Hughes (2003), the use of these instruments derives from concern about child protection tragedies and a wish to prevent other such tragedies. They were intended, these authors say, to assist and support workers in predicting future harm through the use of more rigorous and orderly procedures. Other authors describe an important purpose of the tools as the need to target scarce resources to those most in need, with a second purpose being the reduction of ‘bias’ in decision making (D’Andrade et al., 2005). Ontario’s documents say that...

    • 7 Reducing Whose Risk?
      (pp. 178-206)

      The logic of risk management holds that once risks are identified and assessed they must be dealt with in some fashion. The quote above suggests several strategies to address risk, but in child welfare at least, the stated strategies generally focus on reducing risk and its effects. For instance, a descriptor of a child welfare program states that, after families are classified into ‘high risk, moderately high risk, intermediate risk, moderately low risk or low/no risk,’ and those ‘with a moderately high or higher risk rating are flagged for ongoing monitoring and service provision … The social worker develops a...

  7. Part III

    • 8 ‘What Have They Thought of Now?’
      (pp. 209-234)

      Our study involved risk assessment procedures taken to extremes in a specific context of fear, reinforced by neoliberal politics. Our purpose in this concluding chapter is to demonstrate how local practices such as these are ‘hooked up’ to larger social forces and how they help to reproduce ruling relations, that is, those relations that ‘connect us across space and time and organize our everyday lives’ (Smith, 1990). We also consider how these practices help to realign power relations not only at the level of policy decision makers but right down to the smallest corner of everyday professional work. We trace...

  8. Appendix: Some Notes on Methodology
    (pp. 235-240)
  9. References
    (pp. 241-266)
  10. Index
    (pp. 267-285)