- Social justice framework and other discourses
this section we want to move on to present a Social Justice Framework
as a key analytical tool to be used in this course and briefly present
this in the context of other discourses that are often used in relation
to child welfare including:
of thinking perceives children as vulnerable, in need of protection
and at risk. Adults are tasked with making decisions 'for their
own good'. Arguably, whilst in younger children these perceptions
apply to both sexes, with adolescence it takes on more explicitly
gendered overtones with young women becoming the focus of risk,
for example in relation to sexual activity (Griffin, 1997).
One might argue
that associated with paternalism and protection is another construct
of children as innocent and dependent, a construct that allows for
adult protectionism to flourish. Children in this construct are
vessels unsullied by the corruption of adult experience, knowledge
and outlook. Childhood is a phase in which children are perceived
to need shielding from physical, moral and emotional contamination.
Exposure to events or activities that may contaminate their innocence
is perceived as damaging to healthy development. Intrinsic to this
is the view that children are dependent on adults for protection
and 'gatekeeping' to social interaction. It presents as another
strand of patriarchial perceptions of women and children as weak
and in need of protection and control.
Such a view
can also be regarded as a Northern, middle class construct and one
that holds a relatively short history. The industrial revolution
of Northern countries led to laws limiting the activity and involvement
of children in dangerous factory work. Children historically had
been part of the economic functioning of households as they continue
to be today in many households of southern countries. The economic
and familial roles of children are frequently linked to wider perceptions
of their dependency on adults to meet their needs. The involvement
of older siblings in the care of their younger sisters and brothers
is a child care model that is based on very different sets of assumptions
about children than that in which children need adults to be present
at all times. The debates about 'latch key children' in the eighties
in the UK and North America highlighted the ways in which issues
of social class and wealth cut across the development of a dominant
moral agenda in which notions of independence and safety for children
became blurred and muddled.
A double standard
about the age of independence has been witnessed in the public care
system. England and Canada have come late to the realisation that
expecting children who have been in the public care system to look
after themselves at 16 or 18 years or age is applying double standards
to parental responsibility in the public and private domains.
and separate contentious strand to the discourse around innocence
concerns sexual understanding, awareness and identities of children.
This is acknowledged but not expanded here in relation to social
adultism is discrimination by adults of children and young people
as a consequence of the prejudiced attitudes and assumptions they
may hold about them which translate into behaviours and actions.
Adultism may take a number of forms including:
information and access to entitlements on the basis that children
are too immature or incapable or using them 'properly'
- acting 'on
behalf of a child or young person' using the same rationale
- making decisions
about a child or young person based on generalised representations
of children and young people rather than consulting with or treating
situations on their individual merits
- acting as
a barrier to the autonomy, independence, and empowerment of children
and young people individually or collectively
based on autonomy allows for children to be seen as smaller versions
of adults with the same rights to participate and be involved in
decisions affecting them. This moves us away from the objectification
of children and from parental control as paramount. A child-centred
approach that emphasises children's capabilities rather than their
limitations is one favoured in Sweden in public and private life.
deviant and to be controlled
of discourse that often runs alongside the previous one concerns
the construction of normalised patterns of development and behaviour
for children and adolescents. Rooted in the relationship between
science, academia and social policy, Griffin (1997) cites the work
of G.Stanley Hall as crucial in establishing the 'storm and stress'
model of adolescence. Allied to this has been the continuing attention
of the health professions, educationalists and other child welfare
professions on developing measures of normal childhood development.
From babies onwards all the countries involved in this course use
measurement tools designed to assess and judge the progress of children
against 'objective' measures.
arguably narrow bands of 'normal' within which children and young
people must fit. Behaviours and actions falling outside these bands
have commonly been labelled deviant and services have too often
been geared to controlling and working on children to attain measures
that bring them inside the bands of 'normal'. The rise of the numbers
of children being labelled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactive
Disorder (ADHD or ADD) is an example of certain behaviours acquiring
a 'not normal' category from which a range of services and interventions
are developed around this perceived deviation.
feminist and anti-oppressive approaches
to the two discourses mentioned above has been the development of
critiques based on oppression and discrimination of different groups
in society. These critiques enabled the questioning of the accuracy
and relevance of the assumptions and expectations built around young
people based on arguably white, middle class, male, northern constructs
of normality. A deconstruction of norms and measures exposed the
way theories and discourses have promoted and sustained racist,
sexist, heterosexist and ableist systems and contributed to the
continued oppression of different groups of children. Pringle (1998:17)
- In the
context of lived experience, oppressive power relations associated
with gender and 'race' (along with ethnicity, nationalism and
religion) often interreact with one another in complex and sometimes
one form of oppression over another is therefore unhelpful if
we want to understand and analyse their impact on children and
child welfare systems and practices.
- This should
not be at the expense, however, of oversimplifying the nature
of particular combinations and forms of oppression.
3.3 identified that the history of the children's rights movements
encompassed different adult concerns and priorities for the well-being
and development of children. From a history of children as property
and the consequential objectification of their needs has emerged
a number of perspectives on the status and role of children in society
across and within national boundaries.
of children as smaller adults and the implication of this in terms
of status and citizenship in society extends to social and political
relations. Session 2 iterated the importance of perceiving children
as existing within a range of social systems and this view can help
in trying to understand and manage the ambiguities and inconsistencies
in child welfare that impact on our personal and professional relationships
A view of children
as People First requires us to shift beyond a protectionist position
towards, in the first instance, facing up to the discriminatory
way in which most, if not all societies, perceive and treat children.
are seen as autonomous persons they become more that an appendage
or added weight in the fight for social justice, for example for
women experiencing domestic violence or families needing decent
social housing. Children's needs and entitlements move to stand
alongside the needs of adults in these circumstances. These needs
must be addressed separately to those of adults as they carry not
only equal weight but they are likely to be different to adult needs
and require specific and/or additional responses.
For this reason,
with the assistance of the Rights and Anti-Oppressive discourses,
this course uses a Social Justice Framework to inform the setting
out and critique of key issues in the field of child welfare in
Canada, England, Netherlands and Sweden.