University of Sussex
Boushel,_Margaret.pdf (6.08 MB)

Making sense of children’s rights: how professionals providing integrated child welfare services understand and interpret children's rights

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:31 authored by Margaret Boushel
The purpose of this study is to contribute to the development of integrated child welfare services through an exploration of how professionals providing such services make sense of children’s rights and interpret their understandings in their approach to practice. The study focuses on professionals providing services for children between 5 and 13 years old within the Every Child Matters initiative, designed to support the assessment and provision of integrated child and family preventive services in England. The aims were to explore professional understandings of, and engagement with children's rights, provide a description and analysis of the empirical data, and develop a theorised understanding of the factors influencing sense-making and their implications for professionals’ interpretations of their role. Areas of interest included similarities and differences in professionals’ understandings and how these matched the understandings of service users and those evident in legal and policy texts. It was anticipated that professionals’ understandings and engagement would draw on a complex mix of variable knowledge and embedded assumptions and practices, contested and negotiated in relation to welfare structures, texts and professional identities. The study was designed to explore whether this was borne out. A post-modernist theoretical approach was used, drawing on Bourdieu’s theories of structured inequalities and influenced by Actor Network Theory’s perspectives on networks. Using qualitative methodologies a case study was undertaken within one local area, linking a range of elements in an iterative process, with data from one phase interwoven in the next. Thirty-nine semi-structured interviews with professionals from social work, education and health settings drew on material developed from focus group discussions with child and parent service users and were supplemented by analysis of legal and policy texts and of 30 case records and site-based observations. Initial findings were discussed in parent and professional focus groups. In a second stage analysis of a subset of the data, these findings were explored further and situated within research and academic debate on professional practices and theories of childhood and of rights. Three broad configurations emerged from the data, reflecting differing professionals’ constructions and practice interpretations of children's rights. Some participants interpreted children's rights as an essential ‘golden thread’ underpinning their practice; others took a more selective ‘pick and mix’ approach; and in a third perspective, children's rights were positioned as ‘uncomfortable accommodations’ in relation to interpretations of professional role and of family life. These varying dispositions and related interpretations of professionals’ regulated liberties were associated with perspectives on childhood, rights knowledge, professional setting, personal dispositions and relational practices. The findings are necessarily tentative and a causal relationship cannot be inferred. Three overarching themes emerged across these configurations. These related to: a common rights language and framework; children’s longer-term welfare rights; and conceptualisations of the role of rights within relationships. The absence of a common rights framework to support professional and interprofessional discussions of children’s rights was evident across all settings, as was a professional focus on the immediate and lack of attention to children’s longer-term welfare, civil and social rights. Participants indicated that providing information about children's rights and exploring rights-based relationships in work with parents and carers was very rare and often avoided. The study proposes that in order to address children's rights in a more consistent and holistic way professionals need opportunities to explore theories of human and children's rights using a broad common framework such as the UNCRC. In integrating children's rights within professional practice increased attention is needed to children’s longer-term welfare and development rights and to providing children and adults with information about, positive modelling of and opportunities to explore the place of rights in children’s key relationships.


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  • Social Work and Social Care Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

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