The need to try to work in partnership with parents during a child
protection investigation is a legally-derived expectation of social
work practice. Yet very few empirical studies have examined what
social workers and their clients say to each other when parents are
being assessed for the risk they might present to their children. The
patterning of such talk, and how this might perform a range of
activities is addressed in this thesis.
Social work can be said to derive its practice from twin concerns
with 'care' and 'control'. I describe the ways these themes are made
relevant by participants in child protection investigations using an
approach based on Conversation and Discourse Analysis. The main
sources of data are transcriptions of audio recordings of six extended
meetings between social workers and parents. The discourse of the
worker-client meetings is examined for how it orients to, constitutes
and makes relevant the participants' contrasting roles and
A central analytic theme I consider is the conversational
management of co-operation in social work. This arises out of my
examination of research on the professional-client relationship in
social work and also studies of institutional interactions in
particular settings. Goffman's (1984) concept of 'footing' and
Edwards and Potter's (1992) recent reworking of this within a
'discursive' approach to social psychology are enlisted among other
sources to analyse the interactions. The series of analyses which I
present show how local interactional difficulties are created by the
professional's attempts to affiliate with parents. These are resolved
sequentially and interactionally as the talk oscillates between
various activities associated with the participants' accountability.
I take social work to be constituted by the orientations of the
participants to the control and care dimensions of child protection.
Throughout the thesis, the aim is to validate my approach through a
dialogue with other research studies and also through considering the
participants' own orientations to the issues under discussion.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.