Examining professionals' critical thinking about children who pose a serious threat to others

Gavin Heron, Claire Lightowler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Concerns have been raised about the quality of child-care professionals' critical thinking and analytical skills. This study examines the critical thinking demonstrated by professionals when discussing risk in relation to vulnerable children. Data were collected from thirty consultation meetings, each of which focused on assessing the risks of a child who presented a serious threat of harm to others. Discourse analysis is used to examine the way in which critical thinking about risk is discussed at the consultation meetings. The findings suggest that critical thinking is demonstrated by professionals in ways that differentiate between potential harm and actual harm, and in relation to harm children pose to themselves and to other people. Also, the willingness of professionals to ask relevant questions and challenge each other is an important way of prompting individuals to demonstrate critical thinking. However, professionals tend to demonstrate a relatively narrow conceptualisation of critical thinking. This narrow conceptualisation cannot be reduced solely to the abilities or traits of an individual or professional group and it is argued that the bureaucratic and procedural demands of organisations in relation to vulnerable children may be an important factor in limiting the way professionals demonstrate critical thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)598-615
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Early online date29 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2020


  • critical thinking
  • risk
  • vulnerable children

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