Child abuse : towards a knowledge base by Brian Corby

By Brian Corby

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Ferguson (2004) uses the term `sequestration' to describe what was A history of child abuse and neglect 1870±1991 31 happening during this period. NSPCC and other workers operating in this field were entrusted to carry out their work relatively free from close scrutiny and criticism. Child deaths from neglect and abuse had reduced considerably since before the First World War. Ill-treatment of children was, therefore, seen to be a containable problem and left to the professionals ± a far cry from what was to come when ironically the death rate from abuse was considerably lower.

She characterised the 1940±60 period as follows: The defend-the-conventional-family policy in social work continued through the 1940s and 1950s. These decades represented the low point in public awareness of family-violence problems and in the status of child protection work within the social-work profession. (Gordon 1989: 23) She described an increasing psychoanalysation of family violence by social workers. In Britain, the influence of psychoanalytical theory on social work practice has always been much less than in the USA (Yelloly 1980).

The most comprehensive research into practice during this period was that of Dingwall et al. (1983). They argued that the `new' response to child abuse was tougher in aspect than in practice. They tried to demonstrate that, despite greater concerns for children at risk, social workers, by and large, were still operating in a relatively benign way with families (similar to the practices of the preColwell era). They identified what they described as a `rule of optimism' in action, whereby social workers were expected to make the best interpretation of an allegation of abuse.

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