Explicit argumentation as a supervisory tool for decision making in child protection cases involving human rights issues

Joe Duffy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper addresses the problems often faced by social workers and their supervisors in decision making where human rights considerations and child protection concerns collide. High profile court cases in the United Kingdom and Europe have consistently called for social workers to convey more clarity when justifying their reasons for interfering with human rights in child protection cases. The themes emerging from these case law decisions imply that social workers need to be better at giving reasons and evidence in more explicit ways to support any actions they propose which cause interference with Convention Rights. Toulmin (1958, 1985) offers a structured approach to argumentation which may have relevance to the supervision of child protection cases when social workers and managers are required to balance these human rights considerations. One of the key challenges in this balancing act is the need for decision makers to feel confident that any interventions resulting in the interference of human rights are both justified and proportionate. Toulmin’s work has already been shown to have relevance for assisting social workers navigate pathways through cases involving competing ethical and moral demands (Osmo and Landau, 2001) and more recently to human rights and decision making in child protection (Duffy et al, 2006). Toulmin’s model takes the practitioner through a series of stages where any argument or proposed recommendation (claim) is subjected to intense critical analysis involving exposition of its strengths and weaknesses. The author therefore proposes that explicit argumentation (Osmo and Landau, 2001) may help supervisors and practitioners towards safer and more confident decision making in child protection cases involving the interference of the human rights of children and parents. In addition to highlighting the broader context of human rights currently permeating child protection decision making, the paper will include case material to practically demonstrate the application of Toulmin’s model of argumentation to the supervision context. In this way the paper adopts a strong practice approach in helping to assist practitioners with the problems and dilemmas they may come up against in decision making in complex cases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Early online date18 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science

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