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Fear of blame: post-Gove child protection in B.C. Early, Marsha

Abstract

This study examines how the unprecedented placement of blame on social workers in B.C., following the Report of the Gove Commission into Child Protection in 1995, has affected those workers, by exploring the phenomenon from the point of view of the social workers themselves. By using structural social work theory, with a feminist perspective, the conceptual context is explored in terms of how risk and blame have been constructed and how the relationship between clients and workers, and the treatment of social workers by management have been impacted by that construction. Purposeful criterion sampling was used, applying a snowball approach of recruitment. Ten social workers participated who are or have been recently employed by the Ministry for Children & Families. Data collection occurred through one focus group session as well as individual interviews. Transcripts of the interviews were made from audiotapes. Categorical and holistic content analysis led to identification of participant themes. Findings confirmed fear of blame as a significant contributor to high stress levels but, surprisingly, social workers expressed their belief that a similar fear was frequently behind management decisions. This research provides unique insight into the factors which motivate individuals to do the difficult work of child protection. It also offers an explanation for the ongoing difficulty which government experiences in recruiting and retaining skilled, trained staff, which, if unaddressed, is a serious impediment to the effective delivery of child welfare services in B.C.

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