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Applying social work law with children and families
Applying social work law with children and families

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2.1 Perceptions of children

Harding (1997) describes four ways to understand developments in the way children are perceived. These are outlined in more detail in Box 1 below.

Box 1 Understanding developments in perceptions of children

Laissez-faire and patriarchy

  • A belief in the benefit to society of minimum state intervention.

  • A belief in the value to all of undisturbed family life.

  • A clear dichotomy between the private domain of the family and the public arena.

State paternalism and child protection

  • A belief that the state should have a considerable role in intervening in families to protect children.

  • Parental rights are not valued as highly as the parental duty of care.

  • The state in the paternalistic perspective is construed as neutral and wise, taking the best course of action for children.

Defence of birth family and parents’ rights

  • The importance of biological and psychological parenting.

  • The role of the state in supporting and encouraging parents.

  • An emphasis on the role of preventative work with families.

  • Substitute care may be more damaging than poor parenting.

Children’s rights and child liberation

  • The child is seen as a separate entity.

  • An emphasis on the competence and strength of the child.

  • The link between responsibilities and rights.

(Harding, 1997, in Featherstone et al., 2014)

These perspectives are interesting to consider when looking at the ways legislation develops and how the role of the state in family life changes over time. In turn, these changes impact the role of professionals working with families.