Family complexity and social work: A comparative study of family-based welfare work in different welfare regimes
This study was part of the New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Co-operation in Europe (NORFACE) 18 million euro transnational research programme entitled: ‘Welfare State Futures’.
“The development of welfare systems was one of the defining characteristics of the 20th century, especially in Europe. However, in times of change, it will be important to re-think ‘the welfare state’. The title of the research programme ‘Welfare State Futures’ emphasises that the future is not pre-determined. Countries have choices about how to respond to economic and social challenges, and their choices will shape the future of their welfare states. Research on the welfare state is a well-developed field in social science, based on various theoretical approaches and a long tradition of comparative studies. However, the aim of this programme call is to encourage innovative thinking: to stimulate novel research questions, to orient research towards the future, and to bring disciplines together in collective and comparative projects. In these ways, it hopes to foster theoretical, conceptual and methodological innovation. The programme is funded by the 15 NORFACE partners, the Swedish Council Forte and the European Commission (http://norface.net/653).”
In the era of globalisation, family policies and social care services are at the intersection of increasingly diverse family situations and complex welfare state environments. This project contributed to NORFACE Call themes: people; inequalities/diversity; and shifting responsibilities.
It compared policies and family-based social work in different family policy regimes and service areas: child welfare, drug/alcohol abuse, migrating families and disabilities. The purpose was to analyse how social workers across different contexts understand notions of family and how they describe their own practices and outcomes with families.
This study used empirical data from 8 countries (Norway, Sweden, England, Ireland, Chile, Mexico, Lithuania and Bulgaria) representing 4 different family policy regimes (de-familialised, partly de-familialised, familialised and re-familialised). Existing data relevant to family policies from Eurostat, the OECD and other databases was used. Additional national statistics and documents detailing the organisational structure of services were also collected. Thirty-two focus groups (8 countries, 4 service areas) were held using semi-structured interviews and case vignettes, engaging researchers from the 3 university partners of Sweden, Norway and UK, with co-operation partners in the other 5 countries.
The project added to theoretical analyses of welfare regimes, family policy, professional discretion, and contribute methodologically to cross-national research. End users from policy-makers to social workers benefit from new knowledge about different conceptions of the family and how these impact services provided.
The UK/Republic of Ireland study is led by Professor Sue White, University of Birmingham, UK
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