Making sense of sense-making in child protection: Insights from a study exploring social workers’ practice of personal reflexivity in a statutory setting

John Cavener*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper presents findings of a study exploring social workers’ sense-making and practice of personal reflexivity in a statutory setting. Situated within one local authority in England data was collected through observation and semi-structured interviews with fifteen (n=15) social workers. Informed by Archer’s theory of reflexivity a deductive-inductive data analysis identified differing ‘modes’ of personal reflexivity contributed to practitioners’ sensemaking. Six (n-6) participants were identified as communicative reflexives, two (n=2) as autonomous reflexives, four (n=4) as meta-reflexives and two (n=2) as fractured reflexives. One (n=1) participant was identified as communicative-meta-reflexive outside of Archer’s theory. In sense-making communicative reflexive practitioners acted within prescribed policy and practice frameworks and required others’ validation of judgement before deciding on action. Autonomous reflexives formulated judgement and decided on action independently. Meta-reflexives challenged prescriptive policy and practices and acknowledged dominant language and discourse influenced their sense-making activity. The communicative-metareflexive practitioner practiced autonomous sense-making while critically appraising of their judgement and decision-making. Impeded in sense-making practitioners interpreted as fractured reflexives experienced coerced autonomous sense-making while accommodating feelings of stress and anxiety. Findings indicate critical application of Archer’s ideas contributes to empirical understanding of how social workers make sense, formulate judgement and decide on action dependent on modes of reflexivity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 May 2024

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