Recent years have been fraught with investigations into the deaths of children receiving child welfare services throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. These inquiries have attracted considerable media attention and public outrage. Added to this have been increases in attempts to hold social workers in child welfare responsible for the abuse and deaths of children through the criminal and civil courts. As a result of fears regarding liability, many child welfare professionals are resorting to defensive practice strategies.
This article reviews recent court decisions and legislation in Canada regarding this issue in order to assess actual risks.
Social workers who act according to accepted standards of practice and who in good faith make difficult judgments to the best of their abilities, will not be held to be criminally culpable or civilly negligent.
It is concluded that child welfare professionals who exercise reasonable caution and engage in good clinical social work practice, good record keeping, effective communication and verification of information, can continue to strive to offer the high quality services to children and their families as they have always done without any serious fear of recrimination.