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Durham e-Theses
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Children’s Social Care Services’ Response to Children who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour

DEACON, LESLEY,ANN (2015) Children’s Social Care Services’ Response to Children who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Lesley Deacon PhD) - Accepted Version


Responding to referrals regarding children who display sexually harmful behaviour (SHB) is a complex area of practice for qualified social work practitioners working in generic social work intervention, for example in Local Authority safeguarding teams. The government guideline Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006) was the first document to officially recognise this particular group of children in policy and suggest guidelines for intervention. It confirmed that children who display SHB were classified, and so should be responded to, as children in need and therefore required at least a Section 17 Child in Need Assessment (Children Act, 1989). This thesis examines the extent to which these guidelines were followed within a Local Authority by accessing 30 cases from their Integrated Children’s System (ICS) – examining the recordings made by the social workers to explain their decision making and action taken.

Taking a critical realist grounded theory approach for social work research as recommended by Oliver (2012), ethnographic content analysis was used to analyse qualitative data from these recordings. Following this, semi-structured narrative interviews were used to explore the experiences of generic social work practitioners in this area of practice (children who display SHB), as well as the experiences of parents and other carers. These are presented in the form of thick description (Geertz 1973) in order to interpret the meaning of the actions and behaviour of the participants (Ponterotto 2006). This was completed from the perspective of a social work practitioner-researcher embedded in social work practice during the research process. There is value in practitioner participation in research as this, in effect, values the opinions and theories of social workers and ensures that the research conducted in local and specific (Oliver 2012).

These two areas of research reveal the individual journeys of children displaying SHB showing how they can be invisible to CSCS concluding that, initially, this was because when they were referred to CSCS they did not receive a consistent response, and it was difficult to find information regarding these children within ICS. The thesis went on to conclude that specifics about the children’s behaviour were not recorded accurately, e.g. ‘inappropriate sexualised behaviour’ was a common term used. Finally, in relation to intervention, there was evidence of delays, and referrals to specialist services not being followed up – because sexually harmful behaviour was not always identified as such, opportunities for early intervention were missed.

Following these findings are recommended guidelines for how CSCS can work with children who display sexually harmful behaviour to ensure they become more visible and go on to receive the appropriate intervention. Generative mechanisms (i.e. the what) were identified for further research, in order to develop a theory using grounded theory. These include: societal norms; gender; age; class; professional judgement; focus of child protection; and bureaucracy.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:children who display sexually harmful behaviour; social work practitioners; parents; carers; policy; social work intervention; child in need; Integrated Children’s System (ICS)
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Applied Social Sciences, School of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Feb 2015 09:51

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