In this study, we examine and compare the rationales that social workers and laypersons give for their judgments, assessments and decisions in cases of alleged child abuse and neglect. We have used Toulmin's framework to explore the structure of the arguments/rationales of social workers and laypersons. We analyzed separately basic and complementary level arguments. We used Rosen's work to analyze the content of the backing provided by respondents for their claims. We presented two groups of respondents-52 social workers and 50 laypersons-with a case vignette that was a referral of a child and family made by a family physician. Respondents were asked to read the case, provide their assessment of risk to the child, recommend an intervention, and give written and detailed rationales for their assessment and recommended intervention. The findings indicate that social workers and laypersons differ in the structure and in the content of their rationales. Social workers formulated significantly more complete arguments, both basic and complementary levels of arguments, than laypersons. The content of the backing for the judgments was also significantly different: Social workers used more theory, experience and policy than the laypersons who used more general knowledge and values. In the discussion, we address the training implications of the fact that social workers pay very little attention to rebuttal of arguments, and do not refer to research evidence as a basis for the arguments they make. We recommend that more research focus on arguments and rationales given by professionals in this area.
- Risk assessment