Learning from disasters
: Professional decision-making at the frontline of child welfare practice

  • Stuart Gallagher

Student thesis: Masters ThesisMPhil


This thesis examines the concept of learning as it is presented in the context of serious case reviews (SCRs) and discussions regarding their purpose in preventing the maltreatment of children. The examination uses Toulmin’s (2003 [1958]) model of argument to consider the extent to which learning, as it is presented in the current statutory guidance on safeguarding children, warrants the claim that SCRs, using any learning model, can prevent child maltreatment. It is proposed that the current conceptualisation of a learning model is poor and fails to address the crucial issue of learning transfer. The thesis reviews a wide range of perspectives on learning and their respective ways of dealing with learning transfer. A number of learning models relating to current child welfare and child protection practice are examined in light of this review and it is argued that none of the models adequately addresses the critical issue of learning transferring beyond the frontline of child welfare practice to the private lives of children. The thesis proposes that a fuller account of learning may, however, warrant the guidance’s claim when learning transfer is considered from the Goodwin’s (1994) anthropological study of professional vision. Goodwin’s theory is adopted to engage critically with a purposive sample of SCR executive summaries (published between 2008 and 2011) in order to understand how coding schemes and highlighting used in the sample enable a relation to be drawn between what is learned about serious cases, what can be learned from them, and how learning can prevent child maltreatment. The thesis concludes that the use of public sense-making protocols and imagery may yet be necessary to enable an effective learning model to be constructed, one which would warrant the statutory guidance’s claim.
Date of Award28 Sept 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChris James (Supervisor)

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