Family home visits of social workers always conflict with familial privacy, and as such with parental autonomy. Generally, the interventions are justified by a threat to the children’s wellbeing. The aim of the service is to keep children with their families wherever possible, rather than seeing them being taken into care. By supporting parents in their efforts to structure daily routines and to get along with each other, family home visiting is meant to eventually re-establish long-term parental self-determination.
My dissertation deals with the question of how parental autonomy is handled by all intervening parties, against the background of children at risk. Empirically, I aim to reconstruct the handling of parental autonomy during family home visits. The focus lies on limitations and potentials as well as on challenges of strengthening parental autonomy.
The main data have been collected through observations and simultaneous audio recordings during family home visits. The data collection has taken place at different points of the intervention process. Two families have been visited at at least twelve different interventions. Narrative interviews with the parents, with the social workers and, where advisable, case files have added to the database. The PhD project is based on ethnographic approaches.
Theoretically, self-determination is understood to be a constantly repeated attainment (cf. Rössler 2012) which is performed in a situational and, most importantly, a social context (cf. Rössler 2001 and 2012, Jaeggi 2012). A realisation of self-determination includes the adoption of “life conceptions” (cf. Lorenzer 1988, 2012). Individual “life conceptions” need to be put in relation to each other and might have to be transformed. Beate Rössler (2009) brings forth the argument that self-determination does not mean the elimination of ambivalences, but rather a sensible way of dealing with them.
Methodologically, the handling of parental autonomy during family home visiting is studied by a combination of in-depth-hermeneutic analysis based on the work of Alfred Lorenzer (1973, 1988) and sequential analyses of processing problems. The in-depth-hermeneutical approach focuses on whether the parents’ “life conceptions” are incorporated into the process; however, sequential analyses of processing problems allow for a more detailed reconstruction of how those conceptions are being discussed, transformed and possibly ruled out.