Theoretical work

I am interested in identifying and developing a new conceptual framework for state processes of welfare interventions into private life.  State welfare interventions are  applied worldwide within different legal, policy and political frameworks.  My research investigates the theoretical, legal, social and policy implications for programmes of welfare-driven exercises of state interventions.

State interventions of public health and welfare are predominantly located within a discourse and framework of public benefit and philanthropy, rather than one of power and control.  Consequently, potential negative aspects of state interventions are given less prominence than the intentions.  There is no universal consensus of the best way in which to measure and evaluate the impact of welfare processes and interventions.

The fundamental concept underpinning my work is that an effective framework must demonstrate that it balances state power with private rights as well as aim to reduce social cost of unmet needs, inequality, deprivation and abuse. In order to do this, welfare systems must take account of discourses of power and of rights in addition to social and welfare discourses.  The theoretical research underpinning this work is a detailed exploration of the balance in England between state power and private rights in the child protection & safeguarding system, identified as the ‘welfare/policing dichotomy’, and an exploration of how the language employed to describe, administer and evaluate welfare systems does not take account of the concurrent policing agenda.

My work has identified four theories in the field of public family law:

The Welfare/Policing Dichotomy

Lauren Devine (2015) ‘Considering social work assessment of families’ Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 37:1, 70-83, DOI: 10.1080/09649069.2015.998005

Problems of power imbalances within social work welfare practices are an under-researched area. This article introduced the concept of the need for a new model of social work interventions during referral and assessment of families following concerns about a child, laying the groundwork for the conceptual thinking, the theory and the rationale for it.   This concept is analogous to Packer’s models of crime control and due process which have had significant influence in the criminal justice system

The Outlier Paradox

The Law of Diminishing Returns Ratio

The Theory of Child Protection

Exploring the Limits of State Power & Private Rights

Book: Devine, L. (Forthcoming 2016) The Limits of State Power & Private Rights: Exploring child protection & safeguarding referrals and assessments, Routledge: ISBN 9781138782266

This book provides a detailed theoretical exploration and development of the concept that there is an imbalance between state powers and private rights. It explains that the welfare/policing dichotomy enables state ‘family policing’ powers to be placed into a welfare framework, leaving the underlying policing elements are inadequately addressed.  Welfare frameworks do not provide protections for recipients as they are intended to be supportive.  Policing frameworks do provide protections, as they are recognised as being coercive and potentially harmful.  The book explores the extent to which there is a balance, or otherwise, between the powers of the state and the rights of children, parents and families during child protection and safeguarding referrals and assessments.  It provides the theoretical justification for the need for change.

The book includes a detailed consideration of the English child protection and safeguarding system, exploring the limits of its theoretical, welfare and legal basis and implications in modern society. England operates a selective provision model of welfare service provision which is offered following family assessment. Assessments are used to assess need and risk. Consequently the boundary between consensual and coercive intervention is blurred. The book tackles the difficult issue of the balance between individual rights to privacy, and the power of the state to interfere with those rights through family assessments. The book identifies and critiques several aspects of the system from a multi-disciplinary perspective providing a novel and comprehensive evaluation of this important aspect of child protection and safeguarding.  It explores difficult questions such as why a system of child protection might be considered successful from a social science perspective but unsuccessful from a legal or financial perspective questioning what measure should be used to evaluate the system given its multi-disciplinary implications. Aiming to fill a gap in the existing literature, I consider different aspects of child protection literature and bring them together, providing a text which enables the reader to gain insight into seemingly diverse aspects and effects of the enabling statutory provisions.

The book will be of particular interest to academics, lawyers, theorists and social workers with an interest in child protection, privacy and state powers.

Funded work

Safer Children?

Funded by a UWE Early Career Researcher Grant

An empirical project Investigating child protection training in schools: what is the impact of training on referrals to children’s social care? 

This empirical project investigated the question of how education professionals understand their legal duty to report safeguarding and child protection concerns, and how they are trained in order to do so. The focus of the investigation was on the means by which the training is translated into actual referrals of children. The research included an evaluation of the training effectiveness, and its outcomes.

Rethinking Child Protection Strategy

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Grant number ES/M000990/1

 A longitudinal, secondary data analysis investigating current child protection and safeguarding strategy

This project obtained seed funding for the next stage of the programme. This project met the ESRC’s criteria of ‘genuinely transformative research at the frontiers of social science’.  It is a secondary source data analysis to consider in detail child protection and safeguarding trends, an evaluation of the government’s response to serious, adverse events in child protection and safeguarding, and an evaluation of risk assessment in child protection and safeguarding.  The project evaluates previous research findings and numeric data, fulfilling the ESRC’s ‘transformative’ brief by challenging whether current intervention strategy is justified.  It contributes to the overall strategy by providing longitudinal data to evaluate whether, despite the imbalance between state powers and private rights, the current framework is achieving its aim.  The evaluations show that the outcomes from the current framework have adverse economic and social costs.  The justification for them is weak when taken in context with the overall system efficiency, calculated as having fallen from around 24% at the implementation date of the current framework to 7%.

Devine, L. and Parker, S. (2015) Rethinking child protection strategy: Learning from trends. Working Paper. Centre for Legal Research, University of the West of England. Available from: xxxxxxx.

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