Emotional Encounters between Children and Social Welfare Professionals
social Policy The Open University Leeds, UK
This paper explores the emotional and affective aspects of children and young people's participation within social welfare contexts in the UK. Professionals such as social workers and children's rights workers articulate, manage and negotiate the emotional when working with children and young people in different ways. Some professionals seek to insulate and distance themselves from this difficult work by using various strategies to manage the distress and discomfort. Avoidance is another strategy commonly deployed. In addition to these individual strategies, institutional responses to the emotional aspects of the work are unravelled.
The paper is based on extensive analysis of social care policy texts and in-depth interviews with policy and children's rights officers. It seeks to support and extend existing theorising on social policy and emotion by using organisational analysis and the psychosocial perspective to gain further insight into participation policy and practices.
The professional dilemmas involved in emotional management are discussed in relation to work with children and young people. A range of examples illustrate the complexity involved in negotiating and managing participation, as well as showing how this provokes a range of anxieties, strain and emotion for individual and groups of professionals as well as for the institutions of welfare. These include listening to children which in policy appears unambiguous but in practice is understood differently by children and professionals. The second example is multi-agency working, which is known to raise anxiety for professionals as well as often being difficult for children. Thirdly the discomfort professionals sometimes express at their own organisations in working with children is discussed. This third example relates to the conditions of labour within the new public management of modernised welfare services. These three examples are chosen as they are taken from individual, group and organisational levels of analysis.
Finally the dimensions of power that are enacted in relations between professionals and children are explored to understand the emotional aspects of these relationships between children, young people and welfare professionals.