Close menu


Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

‘Perceptions of non-accidental child deaths as preventable events: The impact of probability heuristics and biases on child protection work'

This is the latest version of this item.

Kearney, Jeremy (2013) ‘Perceptions of non-accidental child deaths as preventable events: The impact of probability heuristics and biases on child protection work'. Health, Risk and Society, 15 (1). pp. 51-66. ISSN 1369-8575

Item Type: Article


Anxiety about the possibility of non-accidental deaths of children has had a major influence on child care policy and practice over the last 40 years. The formal inquiry reports and media coverage of these rare events serve to maintain the perception that these are regular incidents that happen far too often and that they could have been prevented. This focus on individual events tends to distort a clear view of the actual probability of non-accidental deaths and serves to reinforce the notion that potentially all child care cases are risky and that any social work practitioner could be involved in such a case. As a result, work with children has become highly risk averse. However, in statistical terms, the probability of non-accidental child deaths is very low and recently has averaged about 55 deaths a year. Children are at considerably higher risk of being killed on the roads.
This paper examines the way in which perceptions of the ‘high’ level of risk of possible child deaths are maintained despite the very low statistical probability of such incidents. It draws on thinking from behavioural psychology and, in particular the work of Kahneman and Tversky, to consider some of the biases in probability reasoning affecting people’s perception of risk and explores how inquiry reports into single past events reconfirm risk perceptions. It is suggested that recognition of the essentially unpredictable nature of future non-accidental child deaths would free up childcare professionals to work in a more positive and less risk-averse manner in the present.


Download (159kB)

More Information

Depositing User: Jeremy Kearney


Item ID: 4138
Identification Number:
ISSN: 1369-8575
Official URL:

Users with ORCIDS

Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2013 10:18
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 09:08


Author: Jeremy Kearney

University Divisions

Faculty of Education and Society > School of Social Sciences


Social Sciences > Sociology

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item

Available Versions of this Item