From the ultimate abstraction to new intellectual producers

‘The Team Around the Children: Codes, rules and imaginary epistemic objects in interagency working for integrated childrens’ services. – Steve Brown, Leicester University



Notes written by students of Theo Vurdubakis -Department of Organisation, Work and Technology, Lancaster University:

Steve’s presentation focused on the frameworks and technologies used in the protection of children who are seen to be at risk. The aim was to examine and question how technologies such as the CAF (Common Assessment Framework) form were used to co-ordinate all of the services involved in the detection and ultimate protection of children at risk. It examined methods of assessment that were carried out by a multitude of services, under the technology of the CAF form, making the child an object of intervention and risk assessment by a plethora of agencies.

In response to the death of Victoria Climbie, a project was initiated named ‘Every child matters’ (ECM) . The findings of a report published by ECM identified a lack of co-ordination between all of the services involved in assessing and determining which or whether children were at risk. One of the outcomes was the development of the CAF form, which was to provide through ‘master codings’ a way of overcoming the problems of co-ordination. The aim was to provide different professions and services involved in the assessment process, a way of working on different bits of the child at different moments and to bring these processes together. The CAF form is a way to ‘cut up and then reassemble the child’.

Although this technology promised ways of restoring wholism to the co-ordination processes involved, there was a paradox with this in that this wholism was achieved through a peculiar route. This route was one whereby different professionals at different times of intervention made their own sense of the child’s needs and experiences. These differences lead to certain ambiguities of care where the signal or message given is dependent on a particular perspective and its redistribution in turn is dependent on who sends the message and who receives it. So, certain aspects of messages or information given on the child are selected by the recipient who decides from their own perspective what needs to be documented and what needs to be coded in the form. It is this selection process which takes place by a multitude of agencies, which leads to the creation of the child as an ‘imaginary epistemic object’.

The CAF form constructs the child as a represented object to be protection by the services involved, which in turn leads to the disembodiment of the child in the process of this type of risk assessment.

What the presentation of these processes demonstrated was that coding in these contexts does not drive conduct. What it does is lead to the creation of even more complex spaces of action in which an imaginary child is created and in which the most abstracted forms of intervention become the most concrete.

Notes written by Adrian Mackenzie – CESAGen, Lancaster University

This is a project using ‘developmental work research’ methods. ‘Every child matters’ (ECM) was a response to Victoria Climbie’s death. The report criticised the lack of coordination between services attending to children. The rhetoric of every child matters positions every child as vulnerable. The universalising of services mixes old and new, but necessarily abstracts. Some old forms of protection come together with new sciences of protection (child psychiatry, etc). There are a huge variety of services being brought together here. Many different professionals need to come here. A software system based on this looks like a flower, with a database at the centre. Although there are so many professionals, there is no abundance. They are heavily over-burdened professions, stretched to their limits.

Somewhere in the middle of this is a child, and a representation of the child, the child as an epistemic object. There is a gap between the child as known and the child as actual. ECM acknowledges this. There will be different versions of the child. But how will they cohere together as a whole is a problem. As a whole, there will be protection, ideally. But this wholism can only be achieved through a complex mechanism. It will have to overlook the partial involvement needed to get this holism through summing up of parts. The mechanistic spirit is at work here. For instance, the CAF (Common Assessment Framework) form has incredibly many details about cognitive development, family history. The child is broken down into parts in order to be reassembled.

The way that these outcomes and outputs are assembled is interesting. The notion of a ‘trajectory of vulnerability’ is used to gear interventions. How to sequence interventions is a major problem. The trajectory looks different depending on where you stand. From inside looks very different from the outside. A looked-after child might reject educational services because it is the only thing in their life they feel they can control. It all depends on where you stand. Serres’ notion of signal-noise relations is useful here. It shows that much depends on where you stand. The child encounters various signal-noise distributions.

How are superordinate needs established? Who needs to know what in order to do what is a very complicated problem. ‘Rule-bending’ means knowing who knows how to do something. Of course, this will inevitably be the case, social scientifically speaking. The more formalities, the more need for informal workarounds. There are many different ways of thinking about this. An example could be a heavy smoking 12 year old child. In order to arrange nicotine replacement therapy for a child, there are many obstacles. Smoking 40/day is shifted into economic well-being outcome.

Child is often constructed through a complex sequential ordering of needs, and these are dealt through complex formalisms such as the Personal Educational Plan. But this often leads to complicated interdependencies. How can they be arranged to become tractable? The meetings often look for a fundamental outcome, which is ‘the outcome of the possibility of an improved outcome.’ It is both highly abstract, but incredibly concrete as well. The most abstract needs to become concrete. This is an imaginary object because it can never be fully lived. The imaginary epistemic object becomes the core construct.

Coding creates highly coordinated spaces of action that feed back to coordination of concrete interventions.


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