Child Abuse: Towards a Knowledge Base

By Brian Corby.

Open University Press

£17.99 (paperback)

ISBN: 0 335 20567 4

£55 (hardback)

0 335 20568 2

This is a new edition of a useful overview of child abuse in its
historical, social and political context. The author’s updating
covers policy and practice developments since the 1990s and shifts
in thinking towards family support. It examines the mixed messages
given to practitioners about intervention as a result of
fluctuating social and political attitudes and recognises the
legacy of the Cleveland and Orkney inquiries in terms of
professional uncertainty.

The book provides a broad knowledge base of essential areas such
as the history of child abuse, its social construction, incidence
and prevalence, theories of causation, consequences, assessment,
intervention and research findings. Although there is scope for
only a brief review of some major issues such as children’s
evidence, it is an excellent source book.

At the same time as appreciating the book’s value, I sometimes
felt as if I was looking down the wrong end of the telescope.
Although it fulfils the aim to present a critical overview of the
field, the style and content lacks the flavour of life in the
trenches. Perhaps child abuse cannot be approached as an academic
subject without the risk of neutering the discourse. The author’s
methodical, reasoned and academic approach is effective in plotting
developments in policy and research but does not convey what it is
like to negotiate the “war zone”of child abuse.

In debating areas of controversy such as Munchhausen’s by proxy,
satanic ritual abuse, and brittle bone disease, it is essential to
communicate the force of the backlash against professionals and the
true depth of fear which can permeate professional practice.
Otherwise, the official orthodoxy – for example, the book’s
description of the medical diagnosis of child sexual abuse as
marginal in role – will tend to be reinforced rather than offered a

This is a concise and comprehensive foundation text for social
work students, other trainees and all professionals concerned with
child care and child protection. But in becoming equipped to cope
with the dilemmas of child protection, this book is more of a
building block than a corner stone.

Sue Richardson is an independent psychotherapist, child
protection trainer and co-author and co-editor of Child Sexual
Abuse: Whose Problem?
(Venture Press 1991)





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