Child safeguarding practices in light of the deserving/undeserving paradigm : a historical & contemporary analysis

Wendy Sims-Schouten, A. Skinner, Kayleigh Samantha Jane Rivett

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Background - Contemporary child protection systems in the UK need to be seen in light of the late nineteenth century child rescue movement, at a time of curbs in public spending, shifts in attitudes towards children’s welfare and the development of social work. There are similarities in the social, institutional and legal contexts, between the nineteenth century and today, centralising ‘deservedness’, that determined and determines children’s access to services.

Objective - The current article compares historical data and practices of children in care in the UK, encompassing 1881-1918, with contemporary data and practices, through the lens of the deserving/undeserving paradigm, inherited from the Poor Law of 1834.

Participants and Setting - Drawing on two data sets, namely historic children’s case files (N=108), 1881-1918 from the Children’s Society (a philanthropic institution) highlighting the perception of custodians, doctors, professionals, as well as children and parents, and current data from interviews with young care leavers and safeguarding practitioners (N=42), our research focuses on the most disadvantaged children with complex needs and damaging (pre)care experiences.

Methods - Data is analysed using thematic content analysis, framed within critical realist ontology, taking account of stratified non-linear dynamics of processes at different levels.

Results and Conclusion - In both data sets the inability to support certain children is justified by referring to their complex needs and mental health and behavioural problems., Here, the child is held accountable and placed in the ‘undeserving’ category and consequently misses out on help and support, highlighting a need for awareness, and reflective and reflexive practice among practitioners/professionals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104025
JournalChild Abuse & Neglect
Early online date6 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


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