Protecting Our Children A comparative study of the dynamics of structure, intervention and their interplay in Swedish child welfare and Canadian child protection

Abstract: This dissertation is a case study of how two agencies in Umeå, Sweden and Barrie, Canada protect children found in need of child welfare services. The project's purposes are to describe how children are protected from harm in these two contexts, to illuminate the similarities and differences in the child welfare systems reflected at the local level, and explicate the significance of uncovered similarities and differences. The research project is grounded in three complementary theoretical approaches: i) social constructionism, ii) critical program evaluation theory, and iii) institutional ethnography. Using a model I developed to guide cross-national comaprisons, the research project explores three dimensions in the organization and delivery of services: i)Structure (service contexts and features), ii) Intervention (intervention process, and documentation and gatekeeping as two central aspects of intervention), and iii) the interplay between structure and intervention. The project combines methods including focus groups, qualitative application of the vignette technique, and analyses of assessment summaries extracted from case files at each agency. Finding from this investgation are reported in four papers. We identified differences in gatekeeping, use of social work skills, identification of clients, decision-making, and use of compulsory measures and the availability of other measures for clients. The documentation study showed that in Canada documentation is increasingly structured whereas in Sweden documentation is systematically varied but with narrative forms dominating. The different documentation trajectories in these nations are coupled to the paths they have taken with regard to the care and protection of children. We then focus on the "best interests of the child" principle. In Canada, the best interests principle is paramount but intimately connected to "need of protection" and risk assessment. In Sweden, the best interests principle is contibutory to the Social Service Act's emphasis on a solidaristic response to need. When data from this study are taken in context with other research in the field, it appears to give meaning to description of two models of state service for children in need because of abuse or neglect. Umeå is representative of some of the key elements in Swedish child welfare whereas Barrie is representative of some of the key elements in Canadian child protection.