Irish Social work at the crossroads: cultural and organisational boundaries between professional practices and the voices of the children

Federico Farini*, Angela Scollan, Eileen McNeill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Five years since the creation of the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) that embodied the cultural shift towards in Irish Social Work towards the recognition of children as active participants in making decisions that affect their lives, a research was designed to explore the spaces of children’s voices in Irish Social Services. The research allowed the collection of qualitative data that offer an interesting view on policy and legislation shifts around Social Care and Social Work for the welfare and education of children in Ireland.
This contribution explores Ireland’s social services framework and pedagogical contexts regarding available space for children’s active involvement in educational decisions and life changes.
With help of data collected through interviews with professional and policy and documentary analysis, it is assessed and reflected upon if and how self-determination of children is visible and heard within Irish practices in Social Care working with children. The analysis takes an inductive, grounded approach, endeavoring to ensure that findings are located in the textual data itself rather than focusing on the application of pre-defined codes and categories.
In particular, it is explored how the individualistic rights-based approach to Social Care and education advanced by state legislation is intertwined with the construction of children as subordinates within the family. Two types of narratives seem to take shape in the voice fo social workers: 1) narratives of boundaries between children and social workers along the lines of a difficult construction of trust based on ephemeral interactions; 2) narratives of barriers for children’s voices that are subordinated to the Family-State partnership, indicating the ambiguous status of rights-based policies.
This contribution argues that the policy framework of Social Care in Ireland oscillates between recognition and non-recognition of children’s self-determination. Rather than depending on the implementation of strategies for children’s empowerment or the solidity and coherence of a rights-based approach, the observed ambiguity is generated at the intersection of two powerful but contradictory movements: one towards protection of the child through family-State partnership and another directed to the recognition of children’s agency and prioritisation of their self-determination through the empowerment of their voice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocialno Delo/Journal of Social Work
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 Sep 2019


  • social Work
  • Children's rights
  • Ireland
  • childhood studies
  • agency
  • self-determination


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