How do SDM assessments fit with professional judgement?

SDM assessments are designed to complement and inform professional judgement and assist practitioners in making key decisions across the child protection continuum.

What is professional judgement?

Professional judgement can be characterised as “a goal oriented decision-making or problem solving process carried out in the interest of one's client wherein one gives reasoned consideration to relevant information, criteria, methods, context, principles, polices and resources” (American Philosophical Association, 1990).

Across any practice context, professionals are expected to use sound, unbiased judgement in interpreting and analysing information, determining the nature of problems, identifying and evaluating alternative courses of action and making decisions. In order to be effective throughout this process, practitioners should also employ reflective, self-corrective, purposeful thinking processes, taking into account professional knowledge, the context in which decisions are being made, the nature and level of evidence available, methods employed and conceptualisations made, and a variety of other factors (Facione, Facione & Giancarlo, 1997).

Specifically in regard to the child protection context, Munro (2007) has argued that practitioners also draw on the following, when forming judgments or making decisions:

  • formal knowledge, for example, theory, legislation, policy
  • practice wisdom, for example, experiences, social norms
  • emotional wisdom, for example, impact of work on oneself and others
  • personal and professional values, for example, drawing on an ethical framework for practice
  • reasoning skills, for example, ability to critically reflect on practice and reason from own experience and knowledge.

Rather than replacing professional judgement, SDM is a key component, providing a research basis for critical risk-related decisions and a structure for increasing consistency and accuracy of key decisions. Professional judgement allows practitioners to apply the information gathered through using the SDM assessment in ways that appropriately meet a child and family's needs. In integrating professional judgement with the SDM model, practitioners can consider the factors outlined below.

SDM assessments guide decision-making - they do not make decisions

  • SDM assessments are not just another form to complete in ICMS and are more than a procedural requirement. They are designed to assist practitioners during the assessment and decision-making process, by providing a formal and consistent method to process or synthesise information relevant to a case, and inform decision-making.
  • It is not appropriate to write in any assessment rationale “SDM says...” When providing rationales for decisions made, practitioners should identify and record the information and factors that lead them to reach this decision. Practitioners can then indicate whether a SDM assessment outcome supports the decision made.

SDM assessments can only be completed appropriately if professional knowledge, skills and values are utilised

  • Practitioners may utilise and integrate a range of professional knowledge sources when making decisions, including the SDM model. Forms of professional knowledge can include theory, research, organisational and personal knowledge and practice experience.
  • Practitioners are required to understand and apply a range of theories to inform their use of SDM assessments, for example, the child strengths and needs assessment cannot be employed without a good understanding of child development theory and developmental milestones.
  • Communication skills and professional values are crucial to how a practitioner engages with a family, employs interviewing skills or gathers important information. When assessments are not informed by accurate information, it is likely that reasoning and decision-making processes will be impacted, with the risk being that inappropriate outcomes are reached.
  • In addition, SDM items/definitions can prompt the practitioner's exploration of certain areas and the gathering of specific information to inform a comprehensive assessment process.

Professional judgement enables practitioners to apply SDM assessments appropriately to a range of child and family circumstances

  • Using the SDM model requires critical thinking and judgement to recognise unique circumstances for a child and family that are not captured within an SDM assessment, which may change the outcome of the assessment and recommended response. In these cases, a practitioner may override an SDM assessment where appropriate, and provide a clear rationale outlining the reason (and evidence) for this decision.
  • In order to ensure that each assessment is based on an individual child or family, practitioners are to support the items selected by case narrative or assessment information.

For further information about the relationship between SDM and professional judgement please refer to the Child safety practice framework.


American Philosophical Association. (1990). Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. Research findings and recommendations. Retrieved July 2, 2009 from Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database. (ERIC Document No ED315423).

Facione, P., Facione, N., & Giancarlo, C. (1997). Professional judgement and the disposition toward critical thinking. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

Munro, E. (2007). Effective child protection. London: Sage Publications.