Home Sociology Social Change and Social Work
Transformation of Child Welfare Discourses and Practices in Finland – Possibilities for Genealogical Analysis
In Finland, the child welfare as a social practice and discursive formation has also been challenged during the past years (e.g. Satka et al. 2011). It therefore serves as a very interesting case study to explore from a genealogical perspective along similar lines to that expressed above relating to the Irish transformations. Even though the underpinning discourse of 'the child matters' has been at the heart of many recent political initiatives and development programmes, the expected outcomes have not been reached; the practices fall short of the aspirational discourse (e.g. Valtiontalouden tarkastusvirasto 2012). As detailed in the next section, the alleged failure of the child welfare system is often connected to and illustrated by the increasing polarization of well-being and the constantly increasing number of children within the last-resort child protection services and expensive substitute care (e.g. Hoikkala 2011, 243–4).
In public debate, critical voices against the expertise and activities of workers within the field and the child welfare system have strengthened since the unfortunate death of eight-year-old girl Eerika in 2012. This particular incidence may influence the future of the Finnish child welfare, as has happened in similar cases in other countries like Victoria Climbié and Baby P cases in England for example (see Parton 2006; Munro 2011). At this point, however, it is too early to know how specifically this will be articulated in the Finnish context. The impact will depend on the unique genealogical context it occurs within, such as the political contextualization of the problem, the response of the media and the extent to which it becomes a matter of public outcry and moral panic. It is worth noting, for example, that while Ireland has had a number of high-profile cases recently (e.g. WHB 2010), the specific discursive formations resulted less on an emphasis on the vilification of the child protection workers (though there was an element of this) and more a wider critique of the organizational aspects of a system identified as in need of radical reform.
The shortcomings of the contemporary child welfare system, policies and procedures have been discussed in the recent reports published by the National Audit Office of Finland (Valtiontalouden tarkastusvirasto 2012) and three ministries (MSAH 2013; OM 2013; Sipilä and Österbacka 2013). The findings, recommendations and proposals of these documents together with the recent
These sources illuminate at least some of the contemporary discourses concerning the regulation of children and families as well as child welfare policies and strategies and laws and show the complex genealogical context within which the policy change is occurring. Somewhat reflective of the wider European context (Gilbert, Parton and Skiveness 2011), the key discursive regularities include prevention and family support for those at risk of marginalization (with slightly different emphases than the one based on Nordic welfare model, e.g. Harrikari 2008a, 99–134; 2008b), the ethos of early support and effective intervention (e.g. Satka and Harrikari 2008, 649–53) and the promotion of children's rights and participation, multi-professional working and systematized child protection procedures (see also Harrikari and Hoikkala 2008).
To some extent, these publications capture also the present institutional and organizational constraints, such as the reform of the local government structures and the system of health and social services, the everyday child welfare practices and the viewpoints of child welfare workers and experts through experience. The 'experts through experience' refer to peer group activities in child welfare to give a voice to actual experts, in other words, children and young people. This kind of activity has developed in recent years among children and young people who have been placed in substitute care. The aim is to utilize their experience while developing the services (MSAH 2013, 6; Vario et al. 2012). Institutionally and organizationally, the public sector and municipalities have been in the key position for organizing and providing child welfare services and the child welfare services have become much more market based with the private sector mushrooming over the last 15 years (e.g. Puustinen-Korhonen and Pösö 2010, 10–11).
Looking at this genealogically emphasizes that the content of the policy documents in themselves cannot offer the complete truth of the complex relations of changing discourses, practices and power as such. Nor do they sufficiently show evidence of 'hearing the history' in the present. Just as we have argued regarding Irish changes, the Finnish transformation also needs a similar critical approach to give an adequate framework to analyze power relations between a 'new kind of thinking' and actual practices as well as the ongoing transformations in relation to the wider 'conditions of possibility'. But, as already emphasized, while we share some common experiences in transformation, we must interrogate how the specific conditions of possibility in Finland – as opposed to in Ireland for example – have shaped the problem in a very particular manner. Such is the great contribution of genealogy in that it necessitates and facilitates a mode of analysis that is, at one and the same time, cognizant of common themes across space and place while essentially focused on the specific expression and articulation of these themes within a specific historically and spatially defined place. The following
If we interrogate the recent policies regarding substitute care in Finland, we can make a number of assertions using a genealogical framework. Discursively, the issue of children's substitute care has been an important part of the Finnish child welfare and social work system for a long time as featured in its recurrence throughout documents, policy and literature (e.g. Pulma 1987; Hämäläinen 2007; Pekkarinen 2010; Eronen, Laakso and Pösö 2011). Historically, the institutional and residential care as form of substitute care has been very much used. At present, if compared internationally, the number of children placed into residential care instead of other forms of care is still relatively high (GB 331/2010 vp., 4). For example, half of the children taken into care were placed in families and the other half in different forms of residential care in the end of 2012 (Lastensuojelu 2012). At the same time, there is a very limited knowledge regarding Finnish substitute care in general (Hoikkala 2011; Pekkarinen 2011, 60–64). Some researchers have claimed that substitute care as a topic is surrounded by cultural silence in Finland (Eronen, Laakso and Pösö 2011, 157–9). The past of children's substitute care including possible experiences of abuse and neglect is not yet investigated as thoroughly as it has been done in other Nordic and many Western countries. The appropriate ministries have taken action, however, for carrying out this kind of examination in the near future.
The most recent attempt to strengthen family-based substitute care and to reduce residential care is discursively reflected in the revision of the Child Welfare Act 2007 by which the family-based foster care has designated as a priority mode of substitute care (Act 2011/316, 50 §). This change came into force in 2012 and it was made visible by the following clause: 'institutional care is arranged if substitute care for the child cannot be provided in the best interest of the child in family care or elsewhere by means of sufficient supportive measures'.
It is important to note that this is the first time in the Finnish history that this kind of ordering has been written in the child welfare legislation. It is not, however, the first time when the issue of the relationship between different forms of substitute care has been debated (Pulma 1987, 234–40; Pösö 1990; Saurama 2005, 261–4). This leads to ask how and why did this change takes place now instead of other moments in the past? Moreover, how was it reasoned and justified? Because this change is very recent, the evidence for empirical analysis is rather limited but we can still engage a genealogical analysis as a means of opening up the matter for questions that need further exploration.
For a start, we know that ongoing change takes place in a complex societal context. Once heralded as a model approach, social policy based on the Nordic welfare model has faced serious challenges during the past two decades (Harrikari 2008b; Gilbert, Parton and Skivenes 2011). This time has been exceptionally harsh for the families with children and the members of the youngest generations (e.g. Satka et al. 2007, 127–9). These challenges have been at least partly influencing
Hoikkala 2008, 157–9; Satka and Harrikari 2008, 649–53).
Politically, the initiative regarding substitute care was based on the Government Programme of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen›s second Cabinet. As part of the report of preparatory working group (STM 2010) and the government bill (GB 331/2010 vp.), the connections to the background thinking were explicated. The key theoretical ideas relate to familiar theories of attachment theory and the importance of stability in childhood (of stability in substitute care, see PuustinenKorhonen and Pösö 2010). Foster care should be used particularly in cases in which there is a lack of secure attachment between a child and his/her career. At the present, child's best interest, child's rights for protection, participation, provision and an access to the appropriate services are key discursive elements and ideas of the Child Welfare Act 2007. The Act emphasizes that all actions should be grounded on these principles including the selection of the form of substitute care. The construction of a family-oriented idea becomes rather obvious too. The contemporary legal child welfare discourse emphasizes the family orientation and the reunification of the families. According to Child Welfare Act 2007, there is an obligation for family reunification and making the parents' client plans if a child is taken into care and placed in substitute care (30 §) because taking a child into care is aimed to be only a temporary solution in Finland. Taking a child into care is seen as an option of last resort and it is not meant to be long-term. The recent working group has proposed to reconsider this principle and suggested the possible revision of the Child Welfare Act so that taking into care could be defined as a permanent measure in certain cases (MSAH 2013, 18). Discursively the benefit of family life has also been expressed through human rights conventions, such as UNCRC (1989), and international research, tradition and practice within other jurisdictions. For example, notwithstanding a long history of institutional care, and long before the disclosure of scandals relating to them, from 1970 onwards in Ireland, the discourse of child welfare became focused specifically towards the family-oriented and against institutional within the context of an emerging formal welfare state (Skehill 2004). In Finland, the discourse against institutional began to strengthen in the 1950s (e.g. Pulma 1987, 236; Saurama 2005, 268) and it became more vital at turn of the 1960s and 1970s while the discussion concerning the problematic nature of institutional care was particularly vivid. At the moment, the situation seems contradictory: at the same time while the family-oriented discourse is emphasized in child welfare in general, the number of children in substitute care is increasing. This illuminates that the preventive and open care services do not work. It could be asked whether the attempt to strengthen the family-oriented idea in substitute care by changing the law is one response to this contradiction. This leads to ask whether the family-oriented discourse has only recently taken power
as a discourse.
The key problem is how this discursive shift – a change of legislation – is put into practice and how it is reflected in the actual social work practices. The question is how the actual transformation is going to happen because at present it is not very
For example, it has to be asked how is this new kind of policy and strategy then taken into account at the level of practices? There are few crucial factors mentioned in the government bill (GB 331/2010 vp) as reasons for placing a child into residential care instead of foster care. One of them concerns the need of specialized professional knowledge and the other the (possible) need for the restrictions prescribed in the Child Welfare Act 2007.2 These are particularly important against the discourse describing the present clientele in substitute care; children are claimed to be more 'troubled' and difficult to look after nowadays than before and based on this understanding, they are in need of special services (e.g. Hoikkala 2011, 244). This leads to ask how are the needs of children going to be met in foster care if more and more children are constructed – at least discursively
– to be in need of specialized care and treatment?
Furthermore, the restrictions have made, at least discursively, an important dividing principle while selecting the appropriate place for a child. This is a powerful way to categorize children and young people. It raises questions of what kind of understanding it produces of children, their needs, behaviour and the contemporary ways of responding to them. This dividing principle may give strength both discursively and practically to the reproduction of the last-resort and restrictive nature of residential care. It also means that the social workers have to have tools for assessing these kinds of needs and s/he has to have a good knowledge of the nature and implementation of restrictive practices used in residential care units. This takes back to the difficult question; how social workers actually do what they do; what kind of knowledge it is based on? What power is
2 Restrictions in substitute care include: restrictions on contact (62–63 §), confiscation of substances and objects (65 §), bodily search and physical examination (66 §), inspection of possessions and deliveries, leaving deliveries unforwarded (67 §), restraining a child physically (68 §), restrictions on freedom of movement (69 §), isolation (70 §) and special care (71–73 §) (Child Welfare Act 2007, Section 11). The restriction on contact is possible also in family-based foster care. exercised in the decisions of the selection of the mode of substitute care? How are children objectified and categorized in this process?
Foucault argues, the target of analysis in genealogy is never the 'institutions', 'theories' or 'ideology' in themselves but the 'practices'; 'with the aim of grasping the conditions that make these acceptable at a given moment'. In other words, genealogy helps us to understand the context for a range of practices to emerge and exist. This means that these types of practice are not just governed by institutions, whatever role these elements may actually play – but up to a point, possess their own specific regularities, logic, strategy, self-evidence and 'reason' (Foucault 2000, 225).
This point is expressed in recent policy initiatives. For example, Valvira, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, has recently launched a specific programme for supervising children's 24-hour substitute care and other more specific guidelines (Valvira 2012; 2013b, 2013c). There has been a concern especially of the possible infringements of children's self-determination within these services and the application of restrictive measures (see Vario et al. 2012). Clarifications have been given to the service providers and purchasers as well as social workers. Even though monitoring is seen to be important in preventing possible shadow practices and shortcomings, it may reflect a wider transformation towards a more open and explicit monitoring and from the critical point of view to risk management approach. This wider transformation needs to be carefully watched and the monitoring processes and regimes of practices in themselves closely monitored. In sum, the kinds of questions that emerge from a genealogical perspective are: how are the present discourses reflected in the practices of child welfare practitioners and agencies? What kind(s) of position(s) open for children, parents, social workers and other practitioners within the power relations operating between discourses and practices? What is the discursive space for children's residential care in the present formation? How does present policy relate to the past?
These questions are an example of how genealogy is particularly effective as a tool to problematize the relations between discourses and practices, especially at points of transformation. The attempt to map the discursive formations, the relationships, the complexities of processes of power and power relations and the genealogical 'conditions of possibility' and 'constraint' is not enough: the most comprehensive picture of relations emerges when this genealogy is applied also to technologies of self and that which lies 'beneath' discourse (see also Juhila 2009). In this instance, and indeed in the Irish example, how policy will work out in material reality and practice is what is key. Indeed, for this and the Irish example, our contention is that no matter how one seeks to 'discursively' transform a system (e.g. from institutional to family-based care) it is the matter of process that is key in terms of the effect this has. We do not believe that genealogy is the only way to tackle this issue. However, it could be one effective means of so doing as we hope has been demonstrated.
|< Prev||CONTENTS||Next >|