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Conclusions

By applying Bourdieu's conceptual tools to thinking about PSP, we have spotted both consistencies and inconsistencies in its practical operation. Social fields, in Bourdieu's sense, are dynamic spaces of struggle, and ambiguities and contradictions are bound to emerge when different fields – in this analysis mainly the child welfare field, the family field and the field of civic action – overlap and intersect.

The legitimate symbolic capital for practicing support person work comprises resources acquired in the spheres of civil society and the family, in contrast to (administrational) resources acquired in the field of professional social work. The goals imposed on PSP seem, however, rather demanding given the civic nature of the practice. Such ambitious goals may originate in the heritage of social work and child welfare as charity work, but there are probably other explanations as well. In fact, what may seem to be contradictory might be expected to provide the best outcome, i.e. the resources and control provided by the authorities may be assumed to guarantee the effectiveness of a practice based primarily on volunteer work. As a result, the volunteers and professionals working in the NGO are positioned as 'softeners', whose task is to mediate between the field of (institutional) child welfare and the family sphere, as somewhat natural opposites to each other.

PSP is also an example of a conventional way of conceptualizing and understanding child–adult (intergenerational) relations, which in everyday discourse are thought to be formed primarily as (biological) family relations. Therefore it is also understandable that 'family norms' and 'family-like' functions and rituals are recycled in PSP. In the field of child welfare, this is close to being self-evident, as in child welfare work principal objective tends to be to provide support to families – and therefore to compensate for a 'parental lack' in children's everyday life.

However, the competences and desires of the children involved in the practice need to be taken into account as well as their wishes (or not) to construct familylike relationships with their support persons (cf. Holland and Crowley 2013, 63). After all, the practical familial logic and the way people 'do intimate relationships' in families presumably differs from the contractual logic in the administrational and civil fields. Also, opportunities for children to negotiate these relationships, their nature and quality, need to be guaranteed. Our study suggests that currently children only are able to decide on minor matters, such as deciding what to do at the next meeting with the support person whereas more substantial matters (with whom to start a relationship? what is the relationship for?) are outside their powers. On the more structural level, while local authorities provide support person services from private (forand non-profit) sources, the view that more children remain in need of support persons than the purchase contract allows needs to be considered. Clearly, the possibilities of using the practice flexibly are limited. It is no simple matter to ensure that children as child welfare clients are sufficiently aware of the distinct positions, responsibilities and obligations of the other actors (social workers, the NGO, volunteers) in the practice. The field analysis we have begun to outline here suggests that to develop the practice (and to investigate it)

the voices of children and their parents need to be heard.

We conclude by arguing that Bourdieu's conceptual framework is particularly useful when investigating practices that are formed at intersections of two or more fields, such as the practice of using support persons studied here (also Halliday et al. 2009, 424). The thinking tools provided by Bourdieu's theory of social fields assists in understanding the complexity of such practices. Arguably, by leading to multidimensional interpretations of social practices, their multi-level and historical nature that is the always temporary result of the struggles in the field over its distinctive value (capital), they do so more effectively than, for example, the institutional approach. A Bourdieusian approach is particularly valuable for studies of social work in the present era of large-scale transformations that are linked to the increasing privatization and outsourcing of social services to the private sector (forand non-profit). New actors are entering the field of social welfare, causing the logic of social welfare practices to change, perhaps even dramatically. Their study is a timely task for social work researchers, who will need theoretical approaches that can come to grips with the increasing complexity of their field.

 
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