Examining Child Welfare Documents from a Parental Perspective

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Linna building, Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5.

Tarja Vierula

Doctoral defence of M.Soc.Sc. Tarja Vierula

Lastensuojelun asiakirjat vanhempien näkökulmasta (Examining Child Welfare Documents from a Parental Perspective)

The field of science of the dissertation is Social Work.

The opponent is professor Merja Laitinen (University of Lapland). Professor Tarja Pösö acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Examining Child Welfare Documents from a Parental Perspective

This doctoral dissertation examines how parents of children who receive or have received child welfare services regard documents written about themselves and the documentation practices employed in the child welfare system. In examining the parents’ views about the documents, the dissertation focuses on how their interaction with the system intertwines with their personal lives as child welfare services become involved in family and parental relationships, which are regarded as belonging to the private sphere.

The data of the dissertation are comprised of 19 narrative, thematic interviews of children’s parents. The data were analysed through thematic reading and data-driven content analysis. The dissertation is composed of four articles and a summary chapter, which provides theoretical background on the characteristics of social work documents and the power inherent in them, the presence of power in the transformation process involved in documentation, and obstructive power relations.

The results of the study indicate that for some of the parents, their involvement in the child welfare system and the related documents are merely a small part of their personal lives. In the other extreme, however, are parents whose involvement in the child welfare system and the documents drafted about it had long-lasting and multi-level effects on their personal narratives. From the client perspective, the documents constitute a part of the institutional operation of the child welfare system and the client-social worker relationship, and therefore reflect the subordinate position of the parents in relation to authorities. The central finding of the study is that for the parents, the transformation of information not only signifies a linguistic and a conceptual modification of information regarding their personal lives, but it also shifts the control and the ownership of that information. The transformation creates power relations between the client and the document, which are regarded as positive, neutral, and negative. The power inherent in the transformation is imposed on the parents from without, resulting in supportive, insignificant, or negative forms of power. When the power involved in the transformation imposed through the medium of documents is regarded as negative, the documents may obstruct the parents’ involvement and personal lives in different, harmful ways.

It is evident from the results that the documents have multiple meanings and that they are linked to parents’ experiences about their position as clients of child welfare services. Therefore it is important that an examination of documentation practices also involves a broader examination of client-social worker relationships. The results of the dissertation can be utilised in the development of a national database intended to enhance cross-sector collaboration and data sharing in social and health services. The results can also be used outside the fields social work and child welfare when developing documentation practices that would better involve clients.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2323, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1827, Tampere University Press 2017.

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