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Mind the blues: Swedish police officers' mental health and forced deportation of unaccompanied refugee children
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Police Education Unit at Umeå University. Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6113-414X
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Introduction: Policing is a public health issue. The police often encounter vulnerable populations. Police officers have wide discretionary powers, which could impact on how they support vulnerable populations. In encountering vulnerable populations the police officers are required to be professional; maintaining mental health in the face of challenges is part of professionalism. Their encounters with vulnerable populations might influence their mental health which in turn might influence the way they use their discretion when making decisions.

Background/context: Sweden receives more unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children than any other country in Europe. The number of asylum applications for such children increased from 400 in 2004 to 7000 in 2014 to over 35,000 in 2015. These children come to Sweden and apply for asylum without being under the care of their parents or other legal guardian. Some are denied asylum. If they do not return to their country of origin voluntarily the police are responsible for their deportation. The Swedish government wants an increasing number of deportations and wants them carried out with dignity. This thesis is about the police officers’ perceptions of how to interpret the seemingly contradictory demands for more deportations, that is, efficiency; and concerns for human rights during the deportation process, that is, dignity. This is conceptualized using three theoretical frameworks: a) street-level bureaucracy, b) job demand-control-social support model and c) coping. These theoretical frameworks indicate the complexity of the issue and function as constructions by means of which understanding can be brought to the police officers’ perceptions of deportation work involving unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children and how such work is associated to their mental health.

Aim: The current research aims to investigate and analyse Swedish police officers’ mental health in the context of deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children.

Methods: This thesis uses both qualitative and quantitative methodology. The qualitative approach comprised interviews conducted to achieve a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of police officers’ perceptions of deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children. The quantitative method involved the use of validated questionnaires to investigate the association between police officers’ mental health and psychosocial job characteristics and coping. This approach made it possible to study a complex issue in a complex environment and to present relevant recommendations. A total of 14 border police officers were interviewed and 714 police officers responded to a survey.

Results: The police officers utilize their wide discretionary powers and perceive that they are doing what is best in the situation, trying to listen to the child and to be aware of the child’s needs. Police officers with experience of deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children were not found to have poorer mental health than police officers with no such experience. Furthermore, high job demand, low decision latitude, low levels of work-related social support, shift work and being single are associated with poor mental health. Coping moderates the association between mental health and the experience of carrying out deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking, refugee children, and the police officers seem to utilize both emotional and problem-solving coping during the same complex deportation process.

Implications / conclusions: The general conclusion reached in this thesis is that if police officers are subject to reasonable demands, have high decision latitude, access to work-related social support, and utilize adaptable coping, the deportation work does not seem to affect their mental health. When police officers meet vulnerable people, they utilize their discretionary powers to deal with seemingly contradictory demands, that is, efficiency and dignity. The executive role in the deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children and the awareness of dealing with a child threatened with deportation might give rise to activation of a sense of protection, safety and security. Discretion might make it possible to act on this sense of protection, safety and security and to combine efficiency and dignity. Further studies, which integrate cognitive and emotional discretion with coping, need to be undertaken.

Abstract [sv]

Introduktion: Polisarbete är i mångt och mycket en folkhälsofråga, något som inte minst blir tydligt i polisers möte med utsatta människor. Poliser har ett stort handlingsutrymme, vilket kan påverka hur de bemöter utsatta människor. I mötet med dessa människor behöver poliserna vara professionella; att ta hand om sin psykiska hälsa när man möts av utmaningar är en del av professionalismen. Att möta utsatta människor kan påverka polisernas psykiska hälsa, som i sin tur kan påverka hur de använder sitt handlingsutrymme när de fattar beslut.

Bakgrund: Sverige tar emot fler ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn än något annat land i Europa. Antalet asylansökningar för sådana barn ökade från 400 år 2004 till 7000 år 2014 till över 35 000 år 2015. Dessa barn kommer till Sverige och ansöker om asyl utan sina föräldrar eller annan vårdnadshavare. Somliga av dem nekas asyl. Om de inte återvänder till sitt ursprungsland frivilligt är polisen ansvariga för utvisningen. Den svenska regeringen kräver ett ökande antal verkställigheter av av- och utvisningar samt fastlår att verkställigheterna ska genomföras med respekt för människors värdighet. Denna avhandling handlar om polisers uppfattningar och tolkningar av de till synes motsägelsefulla kraven på att verkställa fler av- och utvisningar, det vill säga effektivitet; och hur man hanterar de mänskliga rättigheterna under utvisningsprocessen, det vill säga värdighet. Detta beskrivs och analyseras med hjälp av tre teoretiska ramverk: a) gräsrotsbyråkrati, b) jobb-krav-kontroll-socialt stödmodellen och c) coping. Dessa teoretiska ramverk visar på arbetsuppgiftens komplexitet och fungerar som utgångspunkt för att skapa förståelse för polisernas uppfattningar av arbetet med att verkställa av- och utvisningar av ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn och hur sådant arbete är associerat med polisernas psykiska hälsa.

Syfte: Denna avhandling syftar till att undersöka och analysera svenska polisers psykiska hälsa i relation till av- och utvisningar av ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn.

Metod: Både kvalitativ och kvantitativ metod användes i denna avhandling. Det kvalitativa tillvägagångssättet innefattade intervjuer för att uppnå en djupare förståelse för hur poliser uppfattar av- och utvisningar av ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn. Den kvantitativa metoden innebar tillämpning av validerade frågeformulär för att undersöka sambandet mellan polisernas psykiska hälsa och psykosociala jobbkarakteristika samt coping. Detta tillvägagångssätt gjorde det möjligt att studera en komplex fråga i en komplex miljö och att presentera relevanta rekommendationer. Totalt intervjuades 14 gränspoliser och 714 poliser svarade på en enkätundersökning.

Resultat: Resultatet visar att poliserna utnyttjar sitt stora handlingsutrymme och uppfattar att de gör det som är bäst i situationen, att de försöker lyssna på barnet och vara medvetna om barnets behov. Poliser med erfarenhet av av- och utvisningar av ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn har inte visat sig ha en sämre psykisk hälsa än poliser utan sådan erfarenhet. Vidare är höga krav och lågt beslutsutrymme på arbetet, låga nivåer av arbetsrelaterat socialt stöd, skiftarbete och singelliv associerat med dålig psykisk hälsa. Coping mildrar effekten på den psykiska hälsan hos de som har erfarenhet av att utföra av- och utvisningar av ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn. Poliserna verkar utnyttja både emotionell och problemlösande coping under en och samma komplexa utvisningsprocess.

Slutsats: Den viktigaste slutsatsen i denna avhandling är att om poliser utsätts för rimliga krav, har stort beslutsutrymme, tillgång till arbetsrelaterat socialt stöd och använder sig av anpassningsbar coping, verkar det som att arbetet med av- och utvisningar inte påverkar deras psykiska hälsa. När poliser möter utsatta människor utnyttjar de sitt handlingsutrymme för att hantera de till synes motsägelsefulla kraven, det vill säga effektivitet och värdighet. Den verkställande rollen i av- och utvisningar av ensamkommande asylsökande flyktingbarn och medvetenheten om att hantera ett barn som hotas av utvisning kan ge upphov till en aktivering av känslan att ge skydd, trygghet och säkerhet. Handlingsutrymmet kan göra det möjligt att agera på denna känsla av skydd, trygghet och säkerhet samt att kunna kombinera effektivitet och värdighet. Ytterligare studier, som integrerar kognitivt och känslomässigt handlingsutrymme med coping, behöver emellertid genomföras.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå University , 2017. , p. 61
Series
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1909
Keywords [en]
coping, decision latitude, discretion, job demand, mental health, police personnel, street-level bureaucracy, Sweden, unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children, work-related social support
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Research subject
Public health
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-138923ISBN: 978-91-7601-754-8 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-138923DiVA, id: diva2:1138014
Public defence
2017-09-29, Sal 1031, Norra Beteendevetarhuset, Umeå universitet, Mediegränd 5, Umeå, 09:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-09-08 Created: 2017-09-04 Last updated: 2018-06-09Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Police officers' use of discretion in forced repatriations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children: balancing efficiency and dignity
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Police officers' use of discretion in forced repatriations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children: balancing efficiency and dignity
2015 (English)In: International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice, ISSN 2332-6832, E-ISSN 2332-6840, Vol. 3, no 3, p. 101-108Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Many countries in the European Union (EU)—among them Sweden—are engaged in accelerated removals of refugees, including unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children. Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), international directives and national policies prescribe that the dignity of refugees must be respected when they are forcibly repatriated to their countries of origin. Simultaneously however, the government demands that police services improve their efficiency by continuously increasing the number of forced repatriations, something that prompts a question on the relationship between efficiency and dignity. To what extent is there a conflict between these two goals? Against this backdrop, the aim of this paper is to explore and analyse how Swedish police officers perceive their participation in forced repatriations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children. Interviews with police officers were conducted and analysed drawing on Lipsky's street-level bureaucracy perspective. The findings show that police officers use discretion to create individual perceptions of what constitutes an efficient and dignified repatriation. One main conclusion is that they perceive no conflict between efficiency and dignity. The police officers' own interpretations of what dignity is make it cognitively possible for them to combine efficiency and dignity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Horizon Research Publishing, 2015
Keywords
Discretion, Police, Street-level Bureaucracy, Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking Refugee Children
National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-106973 (URN)10.13189/ijrh.2015.030301 (DOI)
Available from: 2015-08-13 Created: 2015-08-13 Last updated: 2018-06-07Bibliographically approved
2. Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Refugee Children's Forced Repatriation: Social Workers' and Police Officers' Health and Job Characteristics
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Refugee Children's Forced Repatriation: Social Workers' and Police Officers' Health and Job Characteristics
Show others...
2015 (English)In: Global Journal of Health Science, ISSN 1916-9736, E-ISSN 1916-9744, Vol. 7, no 6, p. 215-225Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

During the past ten years the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking refugee children has dramatically increased in Sweden. Some of them are permitted to stay in the receiving country, but some are forced back to their country of origin. Social workers and police officers are involved in these forced repatriations, and such complex situations may cause stressful working conditions. This study aimed to bridge the gap in knowledge of the relationship between general mental health and working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking refugee children who are due for forced repatriation. In addition, the role of psychosocial job characteristics in such relationships was investigated. A questionnaire including sociodemographic characteristics, the Swedish Demand-Control-Support Questionnaire, and the 12-item General Mental Health Questionnaire were distributed nationally. Univariate and multivariable regression models were used. Poorer mental health was associated with working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking refugee children among social workers but not among police officers. Psychological job demand was a significant predictor for general mental health among social workers, while psychological job demand, decision latitude, and marital status were predictors among police officers. Findings are discussed with special regard to the context of social work and police professions in Sweden.

National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-106870 (URN)10.5539/gjhs.v7n6p215 (DOI)26153185 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-84959071602 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2015-08-11 Created: 2015-08-11 Last updated: 2018-06-07Bibliographically approved
3. Swedish Police Officers' Job Strain, Work-Related Social Support and General Mental Health
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Swedish Police Officers' Job Strain, Work-Related Social Support and General Mental Health
2017 (English)In: Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, ISSN 0882-0783, E-ISSN 1936-6469, Vol. 32, no 2, p. 128-137Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study investigated the association between psychosocial job characteristics and general mental health among police officers and the extent to which social support at work plays a role in this association. The findings are based on a cross-sectional survey. A written questionnaire was assessed by 714 police officers volunteered to participate in the study. The participants completed a series of validated instruments assessing job demand, control and social support at work (JDCS); general mental health (GHQ); and sociodemographic characteristics. High job strain was associated with low levels of work-related social support. Moreover, poor mental health was associated with low levels of work-related social support, active work and high job strain. The joint effect of high job strain and low levels of work-related social support had a significant effect on poor mental health. Work-related social support buffered job strain to some extent. Workforce health promotion policies should attempt to reduce job strain and emphasise the importance of work-related social support. Knowledge about police officers' general mental health and policymakers' support for police officers may have positive effects on the performance of the police force.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer, 2017
Keywords
General mental health, Job strain, Police officers, Psychosocial job characteristics, Work-related social support
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-121387 (URN)10.1007/s11896-016-9202-0 (DOI)000410494700005 ()2-s2.0-85019176704 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2016-06-01 Created: 2016-06-01 Last updated: 2018-06-07Bibliographically approved
4. The Swedish Police Service's deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children: The role of coping and general mental health
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Swedish Police Service's deportations of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children: The role of coping and general mental health
2017 (English)In: Cogent Psychology, ISSN 2331-1908, Vol. 4, no 1, article id 1355629Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The number of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking refugee children (UARC) coming to Sweden has increased 100 times during the last ten years. If children do not voluntarily return, the police are responsible for deportation. This study aims to describe police officers’ coping in the deportation of UARC and to investigate the associations between coping and general mental health in relation to the deportation of UARC among police officers by considering sociodemographic variables. Validity and reliability analyses were conducted for the use of the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WOCQ) in the context of UARC. Mental health was assessed using the General Health Questionnaire 12 (GHQ-12). The GHQ-12 was the outcome (dependent variable), and the experience of deportations of UARC, the WOCQ and sociodemographic variables were the independent variables. A 5-factor structure with some important similarities and differences to the original version was confirmed. This study shows that the police officers utilize different coping strategies in the same complex situations during the deportation of UARC. The use of escape-avoidance and self-control increased the likelihood of psychological disturbance, whereas positive reappraisal had a protective effect. This research also demonstrates that coping strategies have a moderating effect on general mental health in police officers’ work with the deportations of UARC. 

Keywords
coping, general mental health, police personnel, unaccompanied, asylum- seeking refugee children
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Public health
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-138265 (URN)10.1080/23311908.2017.1355629 (DOI)000407359200001 ()2-s2.0-85026893401 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2017-08-16 Created: 2017-08-16 Last updated: 2019-04-24Bibliographically approved

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Hansson, Jonas

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