Most cases of child abuse and neglect are not as extreme or clear-cut as those reported in the media. In routine cases the perpetrator is usually a family member, the evidence of injury is ambiguous and the identity of the perpetrator is uncertain. Prosecution, removal of the child, and therapy for the family are sometimes contradictory mandates which courts and social service agencies must balance.

Norm centered negotiation is the decision making process found in this study of child protective work. Child protection workers sometimes negotiate with families in their decisions to confirm abuse, representatives of different agencies negotiate with each other to establish the facts of a case, the best interests of the child, and the service plan. Negotiation is interpreted to be a practical solution to chronic factual uncertainly, contradictory mandates and multi-agency participation in decisions.

Recognition and legitimation of negotiation as the actual decision making pro cess in many cases will permit agencies to keep records and data which permit mure adequate monitoring of case processing Legitimation of negotiation will permit explicit training of staff in more effective methods to negotiate in the shadow of the best interests of children.

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