A short psychosocial history of British child abuse and protection: Case studies in problems of mourning in the public sphere

Cooper, Andrew (2014) A short psychosocial history of British child abuse and protection: Case studies in problems of mourning in the public sphere. Journal of Social Work Practice, 28 (3). pp. 271-285. ISSN 0265-0533

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Abstract/Book Review

This paper offers a historical and psychosocial account of ‘moral panics’ about child maltreatment in England over the last four decades, and proposes this perspective as additional to Munro's more systemic account of the same history. The formal child protection system is theorised in terms of an explicit and a covert dual primary task. The overt task is to actually protect vulnerable children and prevent abuse; the covert task is to protect the remainder of society from exposure to anxiety provoking ‘dangerous knowledge’ about the prevalence of child maltreatment. Episodes of public and political moral panic occur when the boundaries of containment provided by the official system and its processes are breached, propelling debate and contestation about child maltreatment into the public sphere, where public enquiries and other social mechanisms are called upon to ‘settle’ the contested issues. Sometimes these social settlements appear to be successful in resolving conflicts about the reality or otherwise of specific forms of abuse; in other cases, especially child deaths, the controversial and anxiety-laden nature of the problem is recurrently projected back into the public domain. The paper suggests that this may be associated with a difficulty about establishing a secure symbolic framework or discourse in society for the emotionally indigestible facts of child torture and murder. In turn, this may be associated with problems about the decline of public mourning rituals and the failure of the public enquiry format to facilitate this. In line with Munro, the paper argues for the importance of a tragic perspective on child maltreatment, to counter idealisations of the capacity of the formal system to protect children.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Published online: 27 Jun 2014. Special Issue: Child protection after Munro – Reflections three years on
Uncontrolled Keywords: Child Protection, Moral Panics, History, Munro, Psychosocial
Subjects: Children, Young People and Developmental Pyschology > Child Abuse - Social Work
Department/People: Adult and Forensic Services
Depositing User: Ms Linda Dolben
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2014 14:23
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2016 10:28
URI: http://repository.tavistockandportman.ac.uk/id/eprint/886

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