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Bringing the Family Back in: On Role Assignment and Clientification in the Swedish Social Services
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1940-1811
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.
2015 (English)In: Social Sciences, ISSN 2076-0760, Vol. 4, no 1, p. 117-133Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In Sweden, municipal social services provide help and support for vulnerable people with a variety of needs. Although the family has long been understood to be a focus of social work interventions, it is unclear how it is brought into the casework process in the highly individualised and specialised municipal social services. Therefore, in this study we investigated processes of client-making and role assignment in five service sectors: social assistance, child welfare, substance abuse, disability, and elderly care. We carried out focus group interviews with social workers in each of these sectors in a mid-sized community in central Sweden. Findings showed that clienthood and the family are interpreted in different ways. The family is brought into or kept out of service provisions in ways that are connected to social workers’ construction of the family either as expert, client or non-client. However, the role of the family may also change during the casework process. Findings are examined in relation to theories of the welfare state and implications for family-focused practice are discussed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Basel, 2015. Vol. 4, no 1, p. 117-133
Keywords [en]
clienthood; family, social services, focus groups, familialisation
National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-99312DOI: 10.3390/socsci4010117Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85019794781OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-99312DiVA, id: diva2:786722
Projects
Socialt arbete i familjer med komplexa behov - om familjen som bas för insatser i svensk socialtjänst
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2010-0198Available from: 2015-02-06 Created: 2015-02-06 Last updated: 2023-03-24Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Socialtjänsten och familjen: socialarbetares konstruktion av familj och insatser i familjerelaterad komplexitet
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Socialtjänsten och familjen: socialarbetares konstruktion av familj och insatser i familjerelaterad komplexitet
2019 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[en]
Social services and family : social worker's construction of family and interventions in family-related complexity
Abstract [en]

The aim of this dissertation is to describe and analyse how social workers in Swedish social services define “family” and handle complexity when they work with families, and especially “families with complex needs” as the target of their interventions. Whereas families with complex needs can be understood to involve one or more family members having two or more simultaneously occurring needs or problems (e.g. mental health issues, addiction, financial problems, dysfunctionality, child abuse, ageing, disabilities, and family violence), complexity in social work extends beyond that which exists in families. Therefore, to broaden our understanding of these complexities in social work, this research sought answers to the following questions:

• How do social workers define and set boundaries around the concept of “family” when they target their interventions? How do these definitions differ between different sectors of the social services – elderly care, disability care, addiction, child welfare, and financial assistance? (study I)

• How do social workers involve families and family members in the casework from intake and through the investigation process within different social service sectors? What happens to the conceptualisation of family through an investigation process? (study II)

• How do social workers in child welfare services describe and manage complexity in their work generally and when they work with families with complex needs? (study III)

• How then do social workers in different service sectors conceive of and manage complexities in their everyday work, especially when it comes to families with complex needs? (study IV)

The empirical material in studies I and IV consists of telephone interviews with 60 social workers working in five different sectors in four municipalities. Study II is based on five focus group interviews with social workers working in five different sectors in one larger municipality. Study III is based on focus groups with vignettes with social workers working in child welfare in three municipalities.

In the first study findings revealed that different mediating mechanisms were adopted by social workers in what can be understood to be a deconstruction of the family. These mechanisms included legislation (as a control mechanism), household composition (boundary mechanism) and service needs (professional mechanism), which were used in various ways and to differing degrees within each sector. The five unique and sector-specific conceptualisations of families are implicated in how interventions are constructed and work processes targeted at individuals and families.

In the second study findings showed that clienthood and family are interpreted in different ways. The family was brought into or kept out of service provisions in ways that were connected to social workers’ construction of the family either as expert, client or non-client. How social workers understood the role of the family changed during the casework process. In the third study, findings showed that social workers were challenged in their everyday work where they focused on immediate conditions for children while avoiding problems that were less amenable to being solved. Social workers tried to manage complexities related to families by either sorting prioritizing or oscillating between different child welfare orientations. In the fourth study, findings showed that there were different types of reported complex needs: deeprooted needs and broad-based needs. Complex family needs were transformed into complex cases by social workers, based on considerations of family composition, relationships between clients and social workers, and organizational contexts of practice. The boundaries between these three domains were not distinct, and the interconnectivity and complexities occurring in and between them contributed to the production of much of the “wickedness” that exists in social work practice.

A main conclusion is that the concept of family is understood and targeted differently in different sectors of social work. In some cases, the use of the family concept can be related to the clients' specific needs. Families who social workers meet often have combinations of needs and problems that result in numerous interventions from the social services. When social workers meet these families, they can feel ambiguity and uncertainty because of the complexity of the needs or other complexities. And, in individualised social services, a narrow focus on the needs of individuals can make it difficult to see the situation of the family as a whole. This research highlights the importance of bringing this web of complexities to the forefront of practice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2019. p. 90
Series
Studier i socialt arbete vid Umeå universitet : avhandlings- och skriftserie, ISSN 0283-300X ; 95
Keywords
complex needs, complexity, family-based social work, social services, social workers, Sweden, focus groups, vignettes
National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-163535 (URN)978-91-7855-120-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2019-10-18, S213H, Umeå Universitet, Umeå, 10:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2019-09-27 Created: 2019-09-24 Last updated: 2019-09-26Bibliographically approved

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Publisher's full textScopushttp://www.mdpi.com/2076-0760/4/1/117

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Gümüscü, AhmetNygren, LennartKhoo, Evelyn

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