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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Simon Hackett

Hackett, S. & Taylor, A. (2014). Decision Making in Social Work with Children and Families: The Use of Experiential and Analytical Cognitive Processes. The British Journal of Social Work 44(8): 2182-2199.

Author(s) from Durham


Documentary analysis of ninety-eight core assessments of children and families was used as a means of investigating social workers' cognitive decision-making processes. Follow-up semi-structured interviews were carried out with the fifty social workers responsible for completing these assessments. Particular focus was given to investigating the use of experiential and analytical decision making and the effects of case and environmental characteristics. Statistical tests and Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) were used in order to explore the causal mechanisms affecting the decision process. Whilst decision making was primarily experiential, relying on social workers' prior casework experience and intuition, there was fluidity between modes of cognition. Typically, analytical cognition was used as a check or backup to experiential decision strategies. Variations in decision-making strategies were found due to a range and combination of case characteristics and environmental factors. Of particular importance were the dynamic nature of the decision environment, whether the family was previously known to social services, the level of risk involved, the familiarity of the worker with the case type and whether strong evidence was needed to support decision making. Implications for social work policy and practice are discussed.