La Trobe
43378_SOURCE02_3_A.pdf (1.15 MB)

Encounters with Child Welfare Discourses: Beginning Practitioners Working with Mothers with Intellectual Disability

Download (1.15 MB)
posted on 2023-01-18, 16:30 authored by Kathleen Fitt
Submission note: Submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the School of Rural Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.

Both beginning child and family welfare practitioners, and mothers with an intellectual disability experience difficulties within the child protection system. Beginning practitioners experience high attrition rates in the first year of practice. Mothers with an intellectual disability are over represented in applications to remove children from the family home. Discourses encountered by beginning practitioners have the potential to either limit or enable their actions when working with this group of mothers. The study aim was to identify discourses within the child welfare field and explore how, when and where those encountered by beginning child welfare practitioners influence practice when working with mothers with an intellectual disability. In this qualitative study, Foucauldian discourse analysis was applied to two sets of data. The first set comprised 51 submissions made to the Protecting Victorian Vulnerable Children Inquiry. The second set was from interviews with 11 beginning child welfare practitioners. Analysis of the submissions revealed five key discourse themes: ecology, bureaucratic processes, knowledge, resources and definitions of harm/risk. These discourses came together as a framework that was implicit in child protection action. The practitioners provided descriptions that showed that their journey into social work practice was one of learning to master the five elements of the framework. The absence or presence of each element was central to what became possible or impossible. The framework provided an explanation for how beginning practitioners were influenced in terms of their functioning in their own professional and personal environments, and responses to the mother with intellectual disability. There is a need to consider the supports and knowledge beginning practitioners require to manage the five elements of the framework when working with vulnerable groups, such as mothers with intellectual disability.


Center or Department

College of Science, Health and Engineering. School of Rural Health.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


Rights Statement

The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over the content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

Data source

arrow migration 2023-01-10 00:15. Ref: latrobe:43378 (9e0739)

Usage metrics

    Open Theses


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager