Exercise 4: Step 3
Fact ... or professional judgement?
Now compare your answers with ours.
The answer is that only 8 and 9 are 'facts' . . . and even
then, in statement number 8, only if the writer is accurately
recording what happened - it would have been better to have
written something along the lines of 'The child said to me
"My dad hit me around the head last night"' - and,
in number 9, only if everyone has the same ideas in mind when
thinking about what 'playing with' means.
If you're not sure about the factual status of the above
statements, have a quick look at the following summary of
1. There are inadequate play and stimulation opportunities
Comment: It's a professional judgement which needs substantiating.
2. The bruise and swelling are consistent with hitting
his head on the door
Comment: Despite the temptation to read this as a fact, it
is only a medical opinion. If you're thinking 'But the word
'consistent' makes it a fact doesn't it?' think about the
many incorrect convictions that have been made on the basis
of such assertions: sometimes what we think may be consistent
later may prove not to be.
3. This is the first incident of abuse to the child
Comment: All that could be safely stated is that 'This is
the first known or reported incident of abuse to the child':
how does the writer know it was the first 'incident'; again,
if this is what s/he was told it might have been better to
write 'X told me that . . .'
4. The flat is unsuitable for bringing up a young child
Comment: It's both vague and imprecise to make such a statement.
It needs to be supported by reasons for reaching this conclusion.
5. Mrs Green is good at keeping her flat tidy
Comment: Vague; and, as it's written, the relevance of such
a statement is debatable, unless it is part of a longer explanation.
6. Experienced professionals are better at dealing with
child protection issues
Comment: Better than whom? Evidence?
7. Children who were abused usually become abusers
Comment: This is one of many misinterpreted research findings:
if it were true in respect of sexual abuse, for example, then
it would imply that the majority of abusers are female (which
is certainly not true) because most of those abused sexually
are girls. Whilst a significant proportion of adults who abuse
others were themselves abused as children, the finding does
not apply the other way round.
8. The child said his dad hit him
Comment: A 'fact', given the earlier proviso
9. I saw Peter playing with his toys when I last visited
Comment: Again, a 'fact', given the earlier proviso
10. Mrs Green does not display appropriate parenting
skills when relating to her son
Comment: Vague and imprecise: what does 'appropriate' mean,
There are two key practice implications from this exercise:
1. It is essential to distinguish between 'facts' and 'professional
judgements' and conclusions based on observations and research
reports. Hypotheses may also need to recorded, provided it
is made clear what information they are based upon. Nevertheless,
they may still have to be shared if a family member seeks
formal access to their file.
2. But it is very important not to think that you can 'stick
to facts only': the key task is to substantiate any non-factual
information - of which there will always be a great deal.
By 'non-factual' information, we mean 'assessments' and other
information about which you will have to make certain judgements
- but remember that 'using your professional judgement' does
not mean 'being judgmental'.
Have another look at statement number 1 - There are
inadequate play and stimulation opportunities available.
Have a go at writing it in a way which overcomes the difficulties
You could have written something like:
I couldn't see any toys around when I visited yesterday.
I mentioned this to Mrs Green and she explained that she had
tidied them away/didn't have enough money for toys (etc.)
Of course, either of these statements beg questions about
the relevance of such recording. We discuss this more fully
in Exercise 5.
Not distinguishing between 'facts' and 'professional judgements'
can lead to a considerable amount of labelling, as the following
'record' of 'parents' problems' illustrates:
- Drug use
- History of abandonment and institutional upbringing
- Financial/material insufficiency
- Inability to prioritise the needs of the children
(beyond physical care)
These are all listed as 'facts' - as indeed some of them
might be - but, equally, they may be based on a considerable
amount of third-hand information.
Substantiating information and assessments is not achieved
simply by writing 'In my opinion ...' frequently. It sometimes
means writing in a slightly different style. Have a look at
the next example. First of all count how many 'facts' there
Yesterday Janet said 'John's driving me up the wall and
I scared I'm going to overreact'. Whilst this insight is potentially
an encouraging sign for the future I am concerned that both
she and her partner see John as the 'one with all the problems'
and, therefore, as the one who needs to change. We talked
about this for quite a while and I explained how and why I
saw it differently. (Further details on Core Assessment see
The only 'facts' are the reported speech; the rest is assessed
information and is distinguished clearly.
When reading files it is noticeable that workers who do
not substantiate professional judgements and assessments invariably
have not discussed them - in exactly the way they have been
written, that is - with relevant family members. Conversely,
those workers who do discuss the contents of their records
with family members tend to indicate this in files by writing
statements such as 'I outlined the main points in the Conference
report and left Mr Green with a copy' or 'Mrs Green did not
agree with the following points in these notes: . . . '.
In the next extract the worker is both measured and fair
in what is written: s/he has 'concerns', but acknowledges
that there is doubt. What matters is a) how the concerns are
pursued and b) whether and how the concerns are discussed
with family members.
I have concerns that there is drug-taking going on in
the house; however, the only evidence I have for this was
how Mrs Green and Mr Green were behaving. They may or may
not have been under the influence of drugs when I spoke to
them . . .
Now consider the next examples:
Arlan has a good relationship with parents. Has a good
circle of friends.
Jane appears to have an excellent relationship with her
carers. She continues to be happy with the placement.
We are never quite sure exactly what is meant here: for example,
what is 'good' or 'excellent' about the relationship . . .
and what does 'happy' mean? Professional judgements are expressed
but not substantiated. A similar problem exists in the next
Mrs Green's three children all seen. The children all
looked very well. All the family seemed relaxed together.
This will mean different things to different workers; given
that one of the reasons why records are kept is for continuity
when another worker takes over, little information is communicated
when records are so bland.
One of the problems with using imprecise language is that
it means different things to different people. What do you
think are some of the dangers in the following examples:
Mrs D is maternal, caring, not well-organised yet capable
Mrs E's family are not supportive
There is a somewhat 'over-involved' relationship between
They each end up 'labelling' the family member - but, interestingly,
probably not with the same 'label' for each worker reading
the report. In the first example, many of us will 'hear' the
words 'maternal', 'caring', well-organised' and 'capable'
quite differently. In the second example, we know nothing
about the most important aspect of the assertion i.e. in what
ways are they thought not to be 'supportive'. The third example
is more worrying in that some people will assume that something
sinister is going on between the two people.
Repeated self-assessment question
How well do you think you can now distinguish between fact
and professional judgement in your records?