Rethinking Child Welfare Policy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: F203
Oral Presentation
Maria HEIMER , University of Uppsala, Sweden
Joakim PALME , University of Uppsala, Sweden
Studies on children’s welfare have been pursued in a separate strand from the welfare state literature in general. Welfare state theory has been blind to children as actors and research on children’s participation has neglected welfare state theory. This should warrant us to rethink and reformulate the concept of child welfare. The point of departure is the concept of welfare as formulated in the context of the Swedish levels of living surveys, which suggests that a multidimensional resource perspective has to be combined with recognition of humans as actors. We argue that this also applies to children’s welfare: Children’s right to voice makes up a constitutive part of the concept of child welfare. Sweden offers an interesting case in point for identifying gaps in the approaches to children’s welfare: Sweden has been described as a forerunner in children’s rights, being the first nation in the world to ban corporal punishment. Sweden was moreover one of the first countries to sign the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. This notwithstanding, studies on children’s participation in Sweden indicate that implementation encounter many challenges. The paper examines, as a first step, the Swedish legislation with regard to vulnerable children’s right to voice. We find that vulnerable children’s right to voice in proceedings that directly concern them is surprisingly weak in Swedish legislation, with negative implication for the welfare of vulnerable children. Signing of the UN Convention has in this respect not left any clear imprint on Swedish legislation. The findings show the need to formulate new policy strategies: We may resolve the tension between children as ‘beings’ and ‘becomings’ by recognizing that it may be necessary to invest in children’s education and child care but that this is not sufficient as long as we do not consider children’s rights to voice.