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Families With Migration Background Often Ignored By Social Workers

June 25, 2012

Families with non-Western backgrounds are not treated the same by all social workers, according to a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Yet it is not the method that is the problem. Rather, the social workers do not have enough time to build trustful relationships.

When working with disadvantaged children and assessing parenting skills, the competence of social workers is brought to a head. In these situations, they can use two approaches: They can treat everybody the same regardless of cultural background, or they can apply an ethnically sensitive approach. This is one of the conclusions reached in Ing-Marie Johansson’s doctoral thesis.

‘It is striking how the social workers strive to avoid coming across as racist,’ says Johansson.

‘However, none of the interviewed family members had felt racially discriminated,’ she continues.

The thesis is based on three types of material: the National Board of Health and Welfare’s database for interventions targeting children and adolescents, interviews with young men with non-Western backgrounds in out-of-home placements, and material from an educational project within the field of child welfare.

When it comes to out-of-home placements of children, the study shows that a family’s socio-economic situation is a stronger factor than ethnic background. However, the study also makes an observation that should be studied further: Fewer young children and more teenagers are placed in out-of-home care compared to same-age Swedish children and adolescents.

Johansson wonders if the fear of being blamed for being racist keeps the social workers from giving enough attention to the needs of the families and to children’s vulnerability.

In order for social workers to use their full legal ability to work for the best of the family members, they need to feel that they are trusted by their management and politicians.

‘My research indicates that social work with families with migration background does not necessarily require specific methods,’ she says.

‘Rather, what the social workers need is more time; time to build trustful relationships with individuals who don’t speak Swedish well, who have a history of fleeing and separations, and who also often have bad experiences of dealing with authorities.’

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