About the project

Research shows that children and youth under placement statistically do worse than the average later in life. Thus, many persons working with these children perceive the goal of these children attaining normality as being too ambitious. Instead, wanting to have realistic goals, expectations for the child are scaled down and the focus switches to compensation than development.

However, the question is whether or not the goal of normality is too ambitious – or if it is rather mistaken. Indeed, research also shows that children are “champions” in meeting the goals and prejudices one could have about them; the so-called Rosenthal-effect. However, this does not mean that one can achieve anything as long as the goals are high enough. It means, however, that by slowing down and having too low expectations, the child’s development could be destroyed. Hence it can be problematic, if the children are categorised as “damaged” and the expectations consequently are scaled down. Likewise, it is useless to pursue a goal of normalisation that is not believed to be achievable. Instead one should rather accept that these children are different, and take the point of departure in the challenges and resources that deviation from the norm implies.

Research also shows that it is crucial to work in a resource-oriented way, rather than be problem-oriented or troubleshooting-oriented, in order to support the well-being and development of children and youth. This insight has already had an impact on practices, where different methods and tools are being used in order to enhance the focus on the resources of children and their families (e.g. ICDP(International Child Development Program), Signs of Safety, the “Three Houses” tool). Nevertheless, the idea of normalisation as a goal and means that in practice it is not possible to see those characteristics and competences – that do not fit into “normality” – as a resource. Instead, they give rise to concerns and might even be met by strategies of unlearning. This is unethical for the child, but also ineffective and inexpedient for society.

Thus, there is a need for a “difference-centred approach” that does not place children and youth on a normality scale, but rather gives them the opportunity to, and support for, developing themselves, participating and contributing on their own premises and with appreciation of the resources they have/possess.

In this project, we focus on the special attributes that these children and youth develop. The aim is partly empirically based theory building, partly developing and testing of a specific method to recognise and work with the special attributes of these children and youth as a potential resource in their lives and development.

The overall aim is an improvement in social work that will benefit both the children and society. It will benefit the children through a more targeted, recognising and individualised approach, where they are supported to acknowledge and develop their own competences and resources. It will benefit society as the social work is made more efficient when time and means are no longer wasted on an strive to attain “normalisation” which is often unsuccessful anyway.

The project consists of three intertwined sub-projects: basic research, development and testing of a method and follow-up research. The first sub-project constitutes the scientific foundation for the two others sub-projects, while these last two continuously will provide input to each other.

Sub-project 1 – Basic research: Mapping existing knowledge about work with vulnerable children’s deviation from normality as a potential resource in their further development. Read more here.

Sub-project 2 – Development project: Developing, testing and further developing of a method for systematical recognition and support of children’s resources and competences. Read more here.

Sub-project 3 – Follow-up research: Systematic experience gathering, partly as a launch-pad for continuous reflection and development of the method, partly for the purpose of final analysis and dissemination of the experiences for a wider public. Read more here.

The project will be conducted by a research team consisting of Project Manager and Professor in Social Science Hanne Warming, PhD Student Signe Fjordside, PhD Student Manon Lavaud and Sara Romme Rasmussen and Rosa Haumark Carlsen as Student Assistants.

It is based at Roskilde University, Department of Society and Globalisation and will be carried out from September 2012 to September 2017. A background group and an expert group will also be attached to the project.