For there is no hesitation that since its modern emergence as a social problem, child abuse has been subject to considerable media, public and political interest and discussion. It has been constructed as one of the major social problems of present times and perhaps the major priority for managers and practitioners in the child welfare field. Child protection work, by which we mean protection from risk of abuse, has become too centred on the occurrence or not of an abusive event and the likelihood of its recurrence.
Here one has to consider two scenarios. First scenario is that in the former, policy and practice would be driven by an emphasis on partnership, participation, prevention, family support and a positive rethink of the purposes and uses of care. The main concern would be on helping parents and children in the community in a supportive way and would keep notions of policing, surveillance and coercive interventions to a minimum. In effect Part III and Section 17 of the Act would drive policy and practice. The other scenario was that it would be priorities about child protection which would control-in effect Part V and Section 47 in particular, and concerns about the threshold for state intervention based on 'significant harm and the likelihood of significant harm'.
Not only are the family support aspirations and sections of the Act being implemented partially and not prioritised, but also the child protection system is overloaded and not coping with the increased demands made of it. While child protection is the dominating concern and this is framing child welfare more generally, increasingly it is felt that too many cases are being dragged into the child protection net and that as a consequence the few who might require such interventions are in danger of being missed. (Landsberg, 2001) Concerns about child protection have become all pervasive to the point where childcare and child welfare policies and priorities have been fundamentally re-ordered and re-fashioned in its guise. What we are currently witnessing is a major debate about whether and how policy and practice can be reframed so that it is consistent with the original intentions of the Children Act 1989.
The official definition of the child abuse has been broadened considerably over the last twenty-five years and public and professional awareness has increased considerably. While we do not have a mandatory reporting system in the UK, health and welfare professionals will almost certainly be found morally and organisationally culpable if they do not report their concerns. As a consequence the number of referrals to social services departments has increased tremendously. While statistics on referrals are not routinely produced, it is suggested that nationally these are currently in excess of 160,000 a year. However, this broadening definition and growth in awareness and referrals has taken place in a context where there is considerable argument about the nature of child abuse and what we know about it. Child