Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The article outlines a set of child protection criteria used by social workers for the evaluation of risk in sexual abuse cases. The criteria were distilled from research findings based on a sample of 51 child sexual abuse cases drawn from Child Protection Registers in Scotland in 1987/89. Criteria divide between two types: primary (child care) criteria which concentrate on assessing circumstances prevailing within the family home; and secondary (disclosure) criteria which serve to either substantiate or refute disclosure. Primary criteria include attitude of non-abusing parent to alleged perpetrator; access between referred child and alleged perpetrator; type of abuse; age of child or young person; attitude of alleged perpetrator to allegations; and parental attitude to social work investigation. Secondary criteria include belief or disbelief of child; psychological symptoms in child; physical signs of abuse; children's attitudes towards remaining at home; and criminal or psychiatric history including alcohol or drug abuse. In practice the criteria tend to be used like a set of building blocks: tall towers represent higher risk; low towers lesser risk. Given the enormous stakes involved in child protection decisions, front-line practitioners were under considerable pressure to 'play it safe'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-60
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1992


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