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Can social workers forecast future actions, events, and outcomes? A study of referrals to children’s services in England

Meindl, Melissa ORCID: and Wilkins, David ORCID: 2021. Can social workers forecast future actions, events, and outcomes? A study of referrals to children’s services in England. Child Care in Practice 10.1080/13575279.2021.2001434

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Child protection social workers in England are required to make many decisions in their day-to-day work, including whether to accept a referral, undertake a child protection investigation, pursue care proceedings, or close the case. Many of these decisions involve implicit or explicit predictions about the likelihood of future actions, events, and outcomes. This paper presents the results of a study in which social workers and social work students in England were asked at two time points, six to eight months apart, to read a series of case vignettes and make forecasts about the likelihood of different actions, events, and outcomes. The accuracy of these forecasts was measured to determine (1) the aggregate level and range of forecasting accuracy, (2) whether forecasting accuracy is stable over time, (3) whether different vignettes are harder or easier to forecast and (4) whether personal or professional factors are predictors of forecasting accuracy. On average, respondent’s forecasts were 6% better than you would expect by chance, although there was significant variation within the sample. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents who made forecasts more accurately than chance at Time 1 did so again at Time 2. Four of the vignettes were found to be consistently easier to forecast, and four were consistently more difficult. No personal or professional characteristics were found to be significant predictors of forecasting accuracy. There are few straight-forward decisions in social work and the question of how best to support practitioners as they undertake this critical aspect of their role will continue to be an important focus for research.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: In Press
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE)
Publisher: Routledge
ISSN: 1357-5279
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 November 2021
Date of Acceptance: 20 October 2021
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 16:24

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