The problem of participation in child protection conferences: An interactional analysis

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Engagement between parents and child protection services is a matter of widespread importance, yet often hard to achieve. Child protection policy in England and Wales has emphasized participation and partnership for nearly 40 years, including parental attendance at child protection conferences. This paper reports analysis of the talk during the early stages of 12 initial child protection conferences using conversation analysis (CA). It highlights variable practices in managing introductions, and discomfort in discussing parents’ shortcomings and strengths. It provides new insights into strategies used by professionals to mitigate this discomfort, including indirect speech, politeness strategies and what I term narratives of redemption. The paper introduces a new concept, reference switching, where social workers switch between talking about a family to addressing them. Families, meanwhile, employ strategies of justification and recategorization. The paper proposes experimental changes to professionals’ talk, to reduce ambiguity, improve the emotional climate and increase family engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-122
JournalInternational Journal of Child and Family Welfare
VolumeSpecial issue, 2017
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • child protection case conferences
  • parental participation
  • parental involvement
  • applied conversation analysis
  • interactional strategies
  • reference switching

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