Child Welfare and Child Protection: Differences and similarities in policy and practice in Sweden and Great Britain
Results from research on front line practice in Child Welfare in Sweden and in Child Protection in Great Britain have shown interesting similarities in spite of differences in policies and general welfare. Drawing from my own study and two British ones practice strategies to handle policy are discussed. In recent years there have been changing policies in Great Britain to support The Child Protection Services from a protection approach to a more Child Welfare one. However researchers show that the notion of risk is still central and a precondition for interventions as well as for services. They argue that the so-called risk-discourse will lead to more families being referred and investigated and less given help and support. In Sweden Child Protection has been conceived quite differently, with fewer laws dealing specifically with child abuse and neglect, problems that are not a typical reason for providing child-welfare services. The preventive approach implies that investigations are not limited to cases of suspected maltreatment. They may also be initiated if needs of services is assessed as well as by an application from a parent or a child. Policy changes in Sweden have been reversed to them in Great Britain and Child Protection issues are nowadays more stressed acknowledging the best interests of the child. British researchers argue that focus on protection makes social work more investigatory and procedurally driven with more families being referred and resources allocated to the sorting process, thus draining time and resources from prevention and family support. In Sweden as in Great Britain the accountability of social work has been questioned. The critique in Sweden concerns the variety of procedures as well as deficiencies in documentation and reviews leading to a lack of knowledge on the effects of interventions as well as risks of missing maltreated children.
In the ambition of a more systematic, child focused and evidence based social work Sweden has implemented a Swedish variant of the English system The Integrated Children´s System (ICS) by the National Board of Health and Welfare, Children’s needs in focus (BBIC). It has been adapted to Swedish law and practice and a majority of Swedish municipalities are now licensed to use it. On the whole implementation has been a success, mostly because the profession itself has been a driving force in testing and implementing BBIC. However real knowledge on how it has affected social work is lacking as no thorough evaluation has been done.
Demands on accountability make social workers ‘risk concerned’. Structured systems for documentation and tools for practice built on scientific knowledge is a way for practice to handle expectations on them to identify those children at greatest risk. The question can be put if more structured procedures and risk-assessment tools will lead to better targeting and a possibility to create necessary resources to develop family support services. Swedish as well as British local studies of practice show that a lot of energy in Child Welfare is put down in gate-keeping activities, with few decided services in the end.
2:nd International Symposium on Decisions, Assessment, Risk and Evidence in Social Work in University of Ulster 2-3 of July 2012