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By Nigel Parton

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The medico-social definition and approach to child abuse and the practices of health and welfare professionals themselves, as well as parental violence, were identified as being actually and potentially abusive. No longer could it be assumed that child abuse was a hidden reality which could be discovered and unearthed in an uncontested way by professional and scientific interventions and practices. The Cleveland affair and subsequent inquiry did not simply undermine the legitimacy of the medico-social approach to child abuse, but it punctured any cosy, paternalist or maternalist assumptions about what constituted child abuse itself.

Such a policy, we calculate, might save many of the lives of the 40 to 50 children who die at the hands of their parents every year, and at the same time would concentrate scarce and costly resources of Social Services Departments to the 'grey areas' of cases where something more than supervision and something less than long-term removal is indicated. (London Borough of Brent, 1985, p. 289) It is in these 'grey areas' that the recently constituted systems, policies and practices of child protection operate.

It is in this respect that the assessment of 'high risk' takes on its particular purchase and gets to the heart of what it means to do child protection work. The focus becomes differentiating the 'high risk' from the rest, so that children can be protected, parental rights and responsibilities can be respected and scarce resources directed to where they will, in theory, be most effective. The comments of the Beckford Report encapsulate the situation and why it is seen to be of such significance: Society should sanction, in 'high risk' cases, the removal of such children from an appropriate time.

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