In the shadow of their parents: The construction of children in social work practice

Line Søberg Bjerre

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In this paper I will discuss paradoxes between the development of certain social work practices with children, such as ICS (Integrated Children System), and casework traditions of the social work profession.
In recent years, Danish law has incorporated “the child’s perspective” – which means that social workers are required to bring the child’s voice into their casework. Within a similar timeframe, social work methodology has changed with the introduction of ICS. In social work practice, however, these new standardizations live side by side with a case management tradition of social diagnosing. In my research, I have been studying how the child is constructed in social work practices, focusing (as a psychologist) on which discourses and psychological paradigms are used in such constructions. I have conducted a qualitative study of social work in Denmark, observing three different teams in a Danish municipality.
Overall, I have found that social workers talk about families in a way that rarely gives children’s words or perspectives any weight. Instead, social workers are mainly concerned with the social or psychiatric diagnosis of the mother, or their own professional relationship with the parents. In important ways, their discussions of families are informed by the traditions of social diagnosing, which have historically been informed by psychiatric and psychoanalytic thinking, particularly the notion of psychological determinism; the child’s perspective remains out of sight. In this tradition, children are largely constructed as passive victims of the parents’ problems.
With the child obscured in the shadow of the parents’ social diagnosis, it remains difficult to implement the intentions of legislation that seeks to foreground the child’s perspective. I conclude that if children continue to be constructed as passive victims, social work will struggle to implement the ICS model; more importantly, children’s active agency will remain underrepresented in social work practice.
Translated title of the contributionI skyggen af forældrene: Konstruktionen af børn i socialt arbejdes praksis
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event6th European Conference on Social Work Research: Reflective social work practices in contemporary societies: crossed dialogues and new pathways between praxis and research - Catholic University, Lissabon, Portugal
Duration: 30 Mar 20161 Apr 2016
Conference number: 6


Conference6th European Conference on Social Work Research
LocationCatholic University
Internet address

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