‘Like walking on eggshells’: service user views and expectations of the child protection system


  • The research on which this paper is based was funded by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Ireland.

Helen Buckley,
School of Social Work and Social Policy,
Trinity College,
Dublin 2,
E-mail: hbuckley@tcd.ie


This paper reports on a study of service users' views on Irish child protection services. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 67 service users, including young people between 13 and 23. The findings showed that despite refocusing and public service management reforms, service users still experience involvement with the services as intimidating and stressful and while they acknowledged opportunities to participate in the child protection process, they found the experience to be very difficult. Their definition of ‘needs’ was somewhat at odds with that suggested in official documentation, and they viewed the execution of a child protection plan more as a coercive requirement to comply with ‘tasks’ set by workers than a conjoint effort to enhance their children's welfare. As in previous studies, the data showed how the development of good relationships between workers and service users could compensate for the harsher aspects of involvement with child protection. In addition, this study demonstrated a high level of discernment on the part of service users, highlighting their expectation of quality standards in respect of courtesy, respect, accountability, transparency and practitioner expertise.