Presenter: Dr Brian Jenkins

The vast majority of child protection activity relates to social welfare concerns about children and families. Cases reported to child protection services rarely involve intentional and serious wrongdoing by parents that would warrant a criminal justice response. Child protection systems purport to provide non-punitive responses aimed at addressing need and preventing future harm. Given this, the field of child protection has been given relatively little attention by criminologists, except for the ways in which child protection intersects with offending and criminal justice systems (e.g. cases of serious maltreatment involving physical or sexual assaults, cross-over between child protection and youth justice, pathways to adult offending, etc.). In this presentation, I will argue that, in addition to their overt function of helping families, child protection systems operate as blaming systems that designate parents, families, and classes of people as deviant. The failure in both research and policy to recognise this criminalising function makes child protection simultaneously ineffective as a helping service and as a justice response. As such, child protection is a worthy and important area of investigation for criminology. I will conclude with suggestions about the most critical and urgent lines of inquiry for criminology and how these inquiries could support more helpful and more just child protection systems.