Parenting and child welfare services: The case of immigrant parents’ perceptions and experiences of the welfare system
The Norwegian welfare system has a direct effect on how families experience their parenting. While state intervention in families is mostly done with the goal of improving the lives of the citizens, there is no doubt that this can be experienced differently by different groups of people. Comprising four papers, this study has two distinct but interrelated aims. First, the study aims to gain an understanding of how parents perceive and experience their involvement with child welfare services (CWS). Under this first aim, the study explores parental experiences of CWS in different contexts internationally and then, specifically, those experiences for immigrant parents within Norwegian CWS. The second aim is to investigate the challenges of parenting among immigrant parents in a comprehensive welfare system, of which CWS are a part. Under this second aim, the study strives to gain an understanding of immigrant parents’ experiences of parenting in a new context as well as how immigrant parents perceive the controlling role of the welfare system in their parenting.
The data for this thesis consist of both secondary and primary data. Secondary data were collected in the form of previous research articles and inform the first aim of this study, which is how parents perceive and experience CWS. The secondary data consist of 15 articles on parental experiences of CWS. The primary data were collected through in-depth interviews with 18 immigrant parents representing 15 families in Norway. Ten of these families had contact with CWS and five did not. The data from the interviews inform the immigrant parents’ experiences and perceptions of Norwegian CWS and the parenting challenges that immigrant parents experience in the Norwegian welfare state.
The results of parents’ experiences with CWS from both the secondary data and primary data revealed that parents experience their involvement with child welfare as emotionally stressful. This is attributed to how theyrelate with caseworkers, the procedures that characterise involvement with CWS, and parents’ perceptions of help from CWS. Among immigrant parents, the results further show that certain past experiences and challenges associated with migration might further exacerbate vulnerability among immigrants when involved with CWS. In addition, the results show that parents perceive that their emotional expressions affect the progression of their cases, with some perceiving that resistance and anger are met with punishment, such as losing custody of one’s children. This leads to several strategies in the form of emotional management among parents to appear cooperative in order to attract favourable outcomes.
When exploring challenges that immigrant parents experience in parenting in a new context, the study revealed the differences between parenting related to expectations regarding the role of parents and concrete goals for parenting in daily tasks. The study concluded that immigrant parents experience the role of being parents as complex and more demanding in Norway than in their home countries. Three main themes were highlighted: an increased public/state intervention in family matters, a perceived emphasis on material provision as a measure of adequate/sufficient parenthood, and challenges related to socialising children into the traditional values and identity of their native country.
When exploring immigrant parents’ perceptions of the controlling role of the Norwegian welfare system in parenting, the results show that parents perceive that, in Norway, the responsibility of raising children lies with the state and not just the family. The results spread across four themes: feeling controlled, feeling stigmatised, feeling disempowered, and perceptions of damaging help from CWS. Parents’ perceptions seem to draw from the broader welfare system and not just CWS. Perceptions of controlled parenting are perceived through suggestions/instructions on certain parental demands from different welfare institutions. The results also point to perceived public scrutiny on parenting embedded in institutions like schools, health services, and CWS. Parents perceived that their immigrant status led to being stigmatised as having neglectful and abusive parenting practices.
In sum, these findings seem to imply that parents’ perceptions of CWS are not only drawn from involvement with CWS but also their experiences as immigrants and that a perceived vulnerability in society perpetuates their challenges. Therefore, to understand immigrant parents’ perceptions, there is need to adopt a broader approach that entails understanding immigrant parents’ experiences of parenting in a comprehensive welfare state, where the role of the state in families is more explicit than it is in other countries. Having the broader welfare system as a point of departure provides more insights into how parents’ perceptions can be understood, which is this study’s main contribution.