Much has been said about child maltreatment in the last three decades. Yet there is relatively little in the way of solid research evidence about the circumstances of abused children, their likely longterm prognoses or about which interventions work, for whom, when and why. Nor is there a coherent conceptual framework in which evidence of different types can be judged. How is the professional to know whether a case study from a psychotherapist about a victim of child sexual abuse long known to agencies should carry less, more or equal weight relative to a carefully selected representative sample of several thousand children at the point of first referral? (I do not say that one is of greater import than the other, I simply state that the professional finds it difficult to judge.)
In the summer of 1995, the Department of Health published Child Protection: Messages from Research (Dartington Social Research Unit, 1995a), known by the colour of its cover as the ‘Blue Book’. This certainly provides solid research evidence-twenty studies’ worth to be precise. In the discussion building up in the wake of its widespread dissemination to over 20,000 professionals, academics, policy makers and managers in England and Wales, the germs of a conceptual framework by which future-and no doubt contradictoryfindings can be incorporated into practice are beginning to emerge. By the spring of 1997, these deliberations might begin to have an impact on policy and practice, nationally and locally.