Can I Have A Word? Social Worker Interaction and Sense-Making



Helm D (2017) Can I Have A Word? Social Worker Interaction and Sense-Making. Child Abuse Review, 26 (5), pp. 388-398.

This paper explores the ways in which practitioners in children and family social work teams make sense of information in their work. By examining observations and recordings from an ethnographic study, the paper focuses on how informal discussions within the office space inform and affect social workers' analysis (or sense-making). Three elements of sense-making activity are illustrated with vignettes and extracts from field notes: methodical doubt, proximity/reflexivity and security. These three distinct features of practice are then discussed and the significance of the findings considered in relation to contemporary practice. The paper highlights the importance of informal interaction and discussion in the social work office as part of the process of social workers' sense-making. It indicates that feelings of trust and security may be linked to intellectual curiosity and an ability to work with uncertainty in sense-making. Ethnography can provide a means of illuminating this complex and inaccessible element of practice and the findings add to the body of knowledge. Practitioners and organisations may wish to reflect on the findings and consider how they contribute to, and are affected by, such cultures and practices.

safeguarding children; sense-making; ethnography; knowledge; judgement; qualitative study

Child Abuse Review: Volume 26, Issue 5

Publication date30/09/2017
Publication date online24/01/2017
Date accepted by journal11/10/2016

People (1)


Dr Duncan Helm
Dr Duncan Helm

Senior Lecturer, Social Work