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Cross-national comparison of caseworkers’ attitudes towards child welfare issues and their impact in risk assessments and decisions to place a child out-of-home


Aim. The study of caseworkers' attitudes is significant to understand the implementation of child protection services. Professionals' personal perspectives on protective interventions may play a role in the way in which they make decisions and deliver services. The aim of this chapter is to explore the attitudes of caseworkers from five countries towards family foster care and other crucial issues in child welfare, and at the same time to analyse the relation of these attitudes with the risk assessment and the decision to place a child out-of-home in a situation of suspected abuse or neglect. We will seek to answer three research questions:

1. How do attitudes towards family foster care and other relevant issues in child care differ for caseworkers from five different countries?

2. How important are caseworkers' attitudes in predicting risk assessments?

3. How do differences in caseworkers' attitudes influence the decision to place a child out-of-home?

Method. The participants were 1034 child protection workers in five countries: Germany (N=206); Israel (N=210); the Netherlands (N=214); Northern Ireland (N=202); and Spain (N=202).

They were presented with a vignette describing the case of a child at risk and asked to provide their risk assessment and recommendations for intervention. The vignette is a composite derived from authentic files in Israel. It was used in a number of studies (Davidson-Arad & Benbenishty 2008) and was slightly modified to ensure that it is relevant for all countries participating in an international study.

The participants also completed the Child Welfare Attitudes Questionnaire, which consists of 50 statements covering attitudes towards removal, duration of placement, importance of parents' and children's participation, and quality of residential and foster care provisions (Arad-Davidson & Benbenishty 2010). In each of these areas both positive and negative attitudes were included (reverse coding was used to create an index for each attitude). Respondents were asked to indicate their agreement with each item on a five-point scale.

Findings. A multivariate analysis with six child welfare attitudes as dependent variables and country as an independent variable indicated that there were significant differences between the participating countries (F(24, 3964)=30.79, p <.001).

The complex pattern of findings indicate that German practitioners are significantly different compared with practitioners from other countries - they are the most «pro removal». Practitioners from Northern Ireland are most against removal and are also most favourable of reunification and short and optimal duration of alternative care, and the German practitioners had the less favourable attitudes. Northern Ireland practitioners have the most favourable attitude toward children's participation in the decision making processes, significantly different from all the other countries. In contrast, practitioners from the Netherlands had the lowest support for the participation of children in these decisions, significantly different from all the rest. These practitioners (along with the Spanish practitioners) were also least supportive of parents' participation in the decision, while Israeli and Northern Ireland practitioners had the most favourable attitude for including parents' input. The attitudes of Israeli practitioners are least favourable to foster care and most favourable of residential care compared with others, whereas the views of the Spanish practitioners are most positive of foster care and of the Northern Ireland practitioners the most negative view of residential care.

We conducted a multivariate analysis with substantiation of five types of maltreatment as dependent variables and country and attitude cluster membership as independent variables. Substantiation was consistently lower among practitioners with a strong attitude against removal. Also, practitioners in Israel and in Northern Ireland tended to substantiate most of the maltreatment allegations more than others, except for sexual abuse in which Israeli practitioners tended not to substantiate the maltreatment. The multivariate analysis indicated that there were significant differences between the participating countries (F(20, 3696)=16.49, p <. 001).

Risk assessments were also associated with country (F(8, 1952) = 3.71, P < .001) and with attitudes (F(2,975) = 9.00, p < .001), and interaction was not significant (F(8, 1952) = .92, n.s.). Univariate analyses indicated that these country and attitude factors are associated with both assessments of risk for physical and emotional abuse. Practitioners with attitudes against removal made significantly lower risk assessments.

Finally, we examined whether there were differences between practitioners from the participating countries in their recommendations with regard to case disposition. We found that there were significant differences (X2(12) = 143.82, p < .001). The findings indicate that the Spanish practitioners were quite divided in their recommendations - whereas about a fifth thought that the case did not warrant any additional services, a similar proportion felt that the case required removal of the child from the family, even if the family objects to the removal. The Dutch and Israeli practitioners recommended removal of children much less (a total of 25.5% and 31.3%, respectively) compared with the Spanish and German practitioners (53.0% and 40.5%, respectively). Attitudes are also associated with the recommendation (X2(3) = 33.46,p < .001). While 30% of practitioners with attitudes against removal recommended to remove the child, almost 46% of those with pro removal attitudes recommended removal.

Conclusion. Our findings indicate that there are many cross-country differences with regard to the risk assessment and the tendency to recommend removal from home. The influence of attitudes on practitioners' risk assessments and intervention recommendations has been also demonstrated.

This findings suggest the need for improvement of practitioners' supervision and training in order to increase professionals' awareness of the impact of their own attitudes in child welfare assessments and decisions.

Key references

Davidson-Arad, B. and Benbenishty, R. (2010). Contribution of child protection workers' attitudes to their risk assessments and intervention recommendations: a study in Israel. Health and Social Care in the Community, 18(1), 1-9.

Davidson-Arad, B. and Benbenishty, R. (2008). The role of worker's attitudes and parent and child wishes in child protection workers' assessments and recommendation regarding removal and reunification. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(1), 107-121.

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