The Overburdened Mother – How Social Work Conceives of Troubled Families

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Doris BUEHLER-NIEDERBERGER, Department of Education and Social Science, University of Wuppertal, Wuppertal, Germany
Lars ALBERTH, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany
For social workers in child protection families seem to be the main target of intervention and their academic discourse stresses the complexities of the family system. But on the street-level, child protection workers have to deal with individual clients and are confronted with the task to identify the troublemakers and their problematic behavior which may result in child abuse or neglect. Our analysis of 70 case narrations of social workers shows that their interventions mainly focus a mother who is deemed incapable of managing her everyday life, while fathers/male partners are either portrayed as violent or completely absent from those narrations. In this way, the professional program of child protection is strongly gendered and organized around mother-focused routines. Such routines aim at a concept of the family, which – in the way it is fenced in and asymmetric in regard to its gender and generational order – is out of step with broader conceptions of gender and adult-child relations. Our data show that more innovative ideas about parenting and its enhancement are absent from child protection practices.