Child welfare and professionalization

Abstract: This study deals with the qualities of professionalization of public child welfare. Its relationto general social policy is emphasized. The potentials of welfarism are explored as a part ofthe study of crisis of legitimacy and rationality prevalent in welfare systems.The special situation of child welfare in Iceland with a large variation in local socialservices forms an important background of the work. This is related to sociologicaltheorizing and a position taken turns against viewing professionalization as an accumulatingprocess of power as well as the opposite, the blindness of belief in extensive professionalismas a means for creation of "the good life". The line of "family-state-individual" is traced inrelation to the emergence of social work. Child welfare is found to be imprisoned bytradition, since the idea behind children's placement is not thoroughly explored. The issueof a noted technifying and expansive tendency of professional action in cases of child abuseand custodial disputes is treated. A biased treatment of the family is here called "the childwelfare trap". The search for qualities in what traditionally is identified as "bad parenting" infoster care is suggested to be a potential to transcend central dilemmas of the field.A documentation study of poor relief and the support of mothers in the capital of Iceland,Reykjavik of th e 1930's showed an early coexistence of administrative and client-centeredapproaches. In a survey of records on children's placements in the capital of Icela nd,Reykjavik, it was confirmed that this work in an organization with professional employeeswas predominantly bureaucratic and not child-centered, also other results were similar asfound in Nordic studies. In an interview study of two small towns a passivity was shown toprevail in a laymen dominated child welfare practice at the cost of c hildren's needs, whileschool and day care provided support for families. Three significant achievements emergingin interplay with professionalization of social child care, found valid for the Icelandic çase,are seen as having lead to an increased societal sensitivity to deal with human problems.This has created a new acknowledgement of children's right to well-being despite seriouspractical limitations. Due to coexistent conflicting professional practices, a relative absenceof reg ulation and modernizing of services occurring simultaneously with the revision ofwelfarism, a space of action is presumed to exist for shaping of an outline of new practices.Theoretically opposing views on professionalization act as a kind of negative dialectic, onecentered on reproduction of existing practice, the other by presenting a gloominess of anempty-handed doctrine. The analyses of societal changes and child welfare are seen asfrequently ignoring the search for potentials to hand over power to children, not only bygender-blinaness, but by an age-neutrality which excludes children. The "deepening ofwelfare state crisis" is presumed to constitute a required possibility of a new kind of selfreflectionamong professionals. It is suggested that qualitative aspects of commonlyaccepted societal dichotomies will be challenged by the revision of welfare systems and thatthis creates a potential of a reshaping of pr actices, including the support-control dilemmaof c hild welfare.