Power and Care in Statutory Social Work with Vulnerable Families

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Families subject to child protection services are often in a marginalised position with less resources to live up to normative expectations of parenthood. Statutory social workers and parents often hold conflicting views regarding the child’s needs and the family situation, and their relationship is asymmetric leaving the parents with less power to define the situation. This is legitimised in the child’s need for protection and care. However, parents and families can also be vulnerable. Therefore, a core ethical concern is how to act carefully in consideration of different positions and perceptions. In this article, we argue that within such a context of state power and service delivery ethical reflection is crucial, but in a way that makes visible the connection between power and care. Consequently, we offer an analysis of the connection between power and care in statutory social work that captures core ethical, relational and professional dilemmas. This analysis combines notions from care ethics with sociological perspectives on power, conflict, trust, recognition and social suffering, and is illustrated by the case Cecilia and her children. Based on this, we suggest possibilities for care ethics in statutory social work and further research on care and power.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthics and Social Welfare
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)279-293
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • care
  • Care ethics
  • child protection
  • child welfare
  • conflict
  • family welfare
  • power
  • statutory social work
  • trust
  • children


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