Sense-making in a Social Work Office: An ethnographic study of safeguarding judgements



Helm D (2016) Sense-making in a Social Work Office: An ethnographic study of safeguarding judgements. Child and Family Social Work, 21 (1), pp. 26-35.

Social workers are routinely required to make finely balanced judgements on matters defined by subjectivity and uncertainty. Often, these judgements have to be made on the basis of information which is incomplete, inconclusive and contested. The way in which social workers make sense of such information is a crucial component of effective assessment and intervention. This ethnographic study of judgements in a social work office describes some of the practices which practitioners employed in making sense of information about children and young people's needs. The findings suggest that initial statements in dialogue may potentially act as signposts for preceding intuitive sense-making. Observations offer insights into the way in which individuals construct professional responsibility. The study also suggests that sense-making is not necessarily an individual activity but can be an activity which is shared between people and across teams. The findings indicate the importance of emotional intelligence and intersubjectivity in social work judgements.

assessment; child protection; child welfare; empirical research; ethnography

Child and Family Social Work: Volume 21, Issue 1

Publication date29/02/2016
Publication date online28/10/2013
Date accepted by journal01/09/2013

People (1)


Dr Duncan Helm
Dr Duncan Helm

Senior Lecturer, Social Work