Meta-Theoretical Paradigms Underpinning Risk in Child Welfare: Towards a Position of Methodological Pragmatism

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The aim of this paper is to explore the ‘natural attitude’ underpinning risk practices in child welfare. This refers to various taken-for-granted approaches to risk that social workers and other human service professionals draw upon in their everyday practice. The approach proceeds by identifying and critically examining three key, meta-theoretical paradigms on risk which typically shape the natural attitude. They are labelled ‘objectivist’, ‘subjectivist’ and ‘critical’. The ontological, epistemological, axiological and methodological premises supporting each paradigm, and how they shape risk practices, are then reviewed leading to a composite, meta-theoretical position on risk termed ‘methodological pragmatism’. This position draws on the strengths of each paradigm and is formulated into ten propositions which consider how risk should be approached in child welfare. Within this corpus of thought salient themes are endorsed such as the need for method triangulation, an examination of ‘deep causality’, and the promotion of emancipatory perspectives. By critically reflecting on meta-theory, the paper contributes to the development of substantive theories of risk assessment and management in child welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-60
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number1
Early online date18 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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