Social Worker and Midwife Decision Making Regarding Child Protection Risk and the Unborn Baby: A Qualitative Study

Helena Mc Elhinney, Marlene Sinclair, Brian Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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A newborn baby is vulnerable to abuse and neglect, and the professional role may involve assessment before the baby is born. The aim of this paper is to explore the perspectives and experiences of midwives and child protection social workers regarding the protection of unborn babies within Northern Ireland. Data were gathered using four focus groups (14 midwives and 16 child protection social workers) within one Health and Social Care Trust. The data were analysed in terms of understanding risk factors and forming a professional judgement. The mental wellbeing of the pregnant woman, drug use, alcohol use, domestic violence, the pregnant woman's childhood experiences, gestation period and antenatal care attendance were the main risks identified. Observations, engaging with the pregnant woman and using ‘soft intelligence’ were key aspects in forming a professional judgement. The appraisal of the ability of the pregnant woman to recognise danger was an important moderating factor, and perhaps formed part of a professional judgement heuristic to assist in making sense of wide‐ranging information about diverse risks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-113
Number of pages16
JournalChild Abuse Review
Issue number2
Early online date4 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to express their deepest appreciation to the midwives and social workers who participated in this study. We would also like to gratefully acknowledge the support of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and PhD Scholarship funding by the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Child Abuse Review published by Association of Child Protection Professionals and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Child abuse and neglect
  • decision making
  • risk assessment
  • unborn baby
  • child welfare
  • midwifery
  • social work


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