How Clinical Psychologists Respond to Child Safeguarding Dilemmas: A Qualitative Study

Molly O'Connor, Charlotte Wilson, Barry Coughlan, Robbie Duschinsky, Sarah Foster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Downloads (Pure)


This research aimed to explore how clinical psychologists respond to child safeguarding dilemmas, with special attention to the role of psychology in child welfare. Transcripts from 20 semi-structured interviews with clinical psychologists working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in England were analysed using a qualitative framework approach. In these interviews, two family case vignettes were used to examine how psychologists respond to child safeguarding dilemmas. We identified three overarching themes: operating within a system of stretched resources; characterising who is considered ‘supportable’ by psychological services; and challenges around conceptualising and responding to risk. Clinical psychologists viewed social services as responsible for family cases with safeguarding concerns and were reluctant to engage in high-risk cases where stability in the home was not yet established. They saw their role in child welfare primarily as sense-makers for families, by offering a contextualised explanation/formulation for the presenting difficulties.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2850
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse Review
Issue number1
Early online date16 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

Cite this