Cumulative Jeopardy When Children are at Risk of Significant Harm: A Response to Bywaters.
Ward, Harriet. Brown, Rebecca.
Published: February 2016
Children and Youth Services Review
Vol. 61 , p. 222-229
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This paper is a response to Bywaters' (2015) critique of our paper on ‘Cumulative Jeopardy’ (Brown & Ward, 2014), in which we presented data showing a mismatch between timeframes for early childhood development and responses to evidence of abuse and neglect from professionals with safeguarding responsibilities. Bywaters (2015) claims that the study on which it is based is flawed on methodological, empirical, conceptual and ethical grounds. This paper explores each of these grounds for criticism and refutes them. We point out that Bywaters' calculations are inaccurate and lead him to exaggerate the methodological weaknesses of our study. Bywaters argues that we should have collected additional empirical data on deprivation factors; but this would not have significantly improved our classification of risk of future harm or altered our key findings. These show that a high proportion of children in the sample were not adequately safeguarded from harm, an issue that Bywaters ignores. Instead, he asserts that we have an ideological bias towards separation, and this forms the basis for much of his conceptual and ethical criticism. We reject this argument, pointing out that the study focused on those infants who were at greatest risk of compromised development, injury and death from maltreatment, and that these are the babies for whom the fundamental question is whether or not they can safely remain at home. We do not interpret our data as necessarily indicating that more children should come into care, as Bywaters claims, but that more needs to be done to safeguard them from harm, whether they are living with birth parents or placed permanently away from home. (Author abstract)
risk factors; child abuse; infants; child safety; foster children; family preservation; early intervention programs; decision making; child welfare agencies