The institutional framing of trust in social work with children

Sub-project 3: Social work with children and young people at risk – about municipal institutional barriers and facilitators of trust.

Sub-project 3 is directed by Ph. D. student Michael Christensen and deals with trust in social work with children and young people at risk.

Recent research shows that children and young people, who are in contact with ‘system workers’, do not feel listened to, included in their own case or treated with respect for their own opinions and values. Thereby, high demands are placed on the social workers involved with the specific child/young person. Furthermore, the fast and well documented casework required of social workers can affect the opportunity of creating trustful relations through which the social worker can fulfill the needs of the child/young person satisfactorily.

Besides the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, research has shown the importance of children and young people being heard in cases involving them – and that they get the feeling of being  listened to, recognised and that things are happening at their pace. If such a mutual relation is not established, there is a risk that the children/young people at risk will see the social workers as having a ‘know-it-all’ attitude resulting in deficient casework and thus turn their back to adult society. Here we understand trust as a phenomenon, where trust is the key element which makes social work work. The concept of trust is also being compared to discussions of ‘ethics of care/rights’.

The project examines how the social workers see the institutional frame as either promoting or hindering  trust based social work. At the same time, the project focuses on how the social workers see, feel, understand and use trust in social work with children and young people.

The conceptual framework mainly consists of Luhmann’s concept of trust, Bourdieu’s concepts of field, doxa and habitus and Goffman’s theory on dramaturgy and face-to-face interactions (other concepts will of course also be included).

The methods used are particularly observations of the ‘practice’ at social services departments in selected municipalities, combined with qualitative interviews and focus group interviews with the social workers.