Permanency decisions in child welfare: A qualitative study

Paul Mc Cafferty, Joe Duffy, David Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


This article presents findings from an exploratory in-depth qualitative research project with seventeen child welfare professionals exploring their permanency decisions with regards to Looked after Children. Thinking aloud-protocols and semi-structured interviews, in conjunction with a specifically constructed vignette were used to explore the permanency decisions of child welfare workers. Findings from this innovative research suggest that different decisions were taken by participants based on viewing the same vignette. However, even though the decisions differed, they clustered around the more interventionist options with most favouring adoption and foster care despite viable alternatives offered. There was broad consistency related to the rationale for the decisions taken, but this did not translate into a consistent permanency option being chosen. Possible reasons to account for this are that the decisions were heuristically constructed, idiosyncratic to individual inclinations and influenced by factors other than the individual needs of the service user. The implications of this are that children and families do not get a consistent and reliable response to their permanency needs. We therefore recommend the greater use of structured decision-making tools in permanency decisions to increase their objectivity and consistency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2134–2154
Number of pages21
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
Early online date19 May 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers.


  • permanency
  • risk assessment
  • decision making
  • social wok
  • child welfare
  • adoption
  • foster care
  • Kinship care
  • thinking-aloud
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)
  • social work
  • assessment
  • decision-making


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