British Journal of Social Work (2013) 43, 803–812
Advance Access publication May 14, 2013

Critical Commentary
Moral Panics, Claims-Making and Child
Protection in the UK
Gary Clapton*, Viviene Cree, and Mark Smith


Correspondence to Gary Clapton, University of Edinburgh, Social Work, Chrystal Macmillan
Building, George Square, Edinburgh, EH9 9LD, UK. E-mail: gary.clapton@ed.ac.uk

This paper brings sociological theory on moral panics to a discussion of child protection
social work in the UK. We begin by considering the extent to which policy and practice
may be susceptible to distortion by ‘claims-making’, the influence of which, we will
argue, casts a rarely explored and less understood influence on the service’s practice and
direction. We conclude that claims-making has had a detrimental effect on child protection, contributing to a coarsening of attitudes towards families in child protection
work, a retreat from preventative practice and a deterioration in relationships between
social workers, service users and members of the public more generally.
Keywords: Child protection, claims-making, moral panics

Accepted: March 2013

Stanley Cohen’s (1972) analysis of moral panics has been highly influential in
the development of critical ideas about contemporary social concerns and
anxieties over the last forty years. In Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Cohen
examined incidents of social alarm that had gripped the public imagination
in the 1950s and 1960s. Looking particularly at the confrontations between
‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’ that had taken place on a number of beaches in
England in 1964, he identified that the reaction to these events had been disproportionate—far greater than these minor skirmishes between young
people had warranted. Cohen drew attention to the role of the media in amplifying the events. He also, however, highlighted that incidents like these were

# The Author 2013....

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