Decisions in Child Protection: Heuristics, Law and Organisation

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


With theories of heuristics and decision-making ecology as our analytical lens, we examined social work practitioners' use of heuristics (rules-of-thumb) as a response to real-world situations, emphasising the legal framework and how the work was organised. The data comprised eleven exploratory and follow-up group interviews with thirty-nine social workers and team leaders, observations of 108 decisions in child cases during eighteen meetings, and an analysis of fourteen case files in two Danish municipalities. Open, interpretative coding was used within a systemic approach, using Fish et al. (2008). Three heuristic rules guided decisions in all cases: (i) Form and maintain the first impression. (ii) When in doubt or disagreement, wait. (iii) Avoid parents' resistance. Key takeaways are that these heuristics help social workers and managers and are connected to satisficing strategies as a natural response to legal and organisational factors. However, the heuristics can also lead to a lack of transparency, delayed interventions and other kinds of bias. We point out the need for understanding such patterns through an extended research to facilitate better and timely feedback to practitioners on their decisions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)2940-2957
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023
EventPresentation Kings College London - Kings College, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 May 202316 May 2023


PresentationPresentation Kings College London
LocationKings College
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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