The paralysis of practice in child safeguarding
: understanding and responding to deceptive practices by parents and carers in the child safeguarding context

  • Leah Fox

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The research reported in this thesis aims to evaluate the current child safeguarding practices adhered to by practitioners to identify and respond to deception in parents and carers. The thesis also aims to establish whether any developments in professional practice could contribute to the reduction of child homicide and serious abuse.
This study employs a qualitative approach drawing on secondary data from Serious Case Review (SCR) overview reports, and on primary data through interviews with key participants and frontline child safeguarding professionals in England and the United States, as well as ethnographical observational fieldwork. Although this thesis primarily focuses on the work of practitioners in police, social and health care services in England within the scope of their roles in child safeguarding, the experiences of child safeguarding professionals in the United States are drawn upon to provide an insight into any alternative strategies to deal with potentially deceptive parents.
This current research reveals that amidst the widespread occurrence of deceit, child safeguarding professionals are well attuned to it on the whole and are largely aware when they are being lied to by parents. Although no specific deception detection training is offered to professionals to assist them to detect parental deceit, a combination of approaches, including intuition, verbal and nonverbal signs of deception, as well as practice wisdom, are employed by these professionals to help them recognise the signs.
It is the professionals’ subsequent response to the deceit that determines the effectiveness of their decision-making, and the extent of interventions in relation to the child. The research has revealed serious and concerning deficiencies in the response to parental deceit.
The differentiated response by professionals to suspected or confirmed parental deception is underpinned by organisational values and ethos, but is largely actioned through the paradigm of relationship-based practice and the ‘working with families’ culture.
Date of AwardJun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorMichael Nash (Supervisor)

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