Who's got the power?

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Louise Brændstrup Andersen
4. term, Social Work, Master (Master Programme)
In March 2006 the Danish Parliament passed a law on parenting orders (L108), which allows social workers to demand certain actions from parents whose child is either absent from school, has commited a crime, is maladjusted or if the parents won’t cooperate with the social services department. If the actions required from the parents is not followed, the social worker can detain the goverment paid child support (børnefamilieydelsen), that are given to the parents of all Danish children under the age of 18. It was a controversial law and it was met with harsh critism.

This extended essay examines 1) How the passing of L108 can be explained og 2) What kind of influence social workers has on the implementation of the law.

The analysis are based on Norman Faircloughs critical discourse analysis combined with Michel Foucaults theoretical concepts regarding power. These concepts are used within a broader model that focuses on five important phases that influences on policy implementation, social work and street-level bureaucracy. The empirical data consists of a) Transcripts from the debats in the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), b) written considerations from the organizations and trade unions that the bill was circulated among and c) qualitative interviews with five social workers who administrates the law.

The paper concludes that there is a power struggle between two powerful groups: One that advocates for L108 and one that is opposed to L108. The power struggle deals with the definitions of the truth regarding causality to lack of parent ability, the effect of economic sanctions and which solutions/tools that should be used towards the parents in question. The pro-group speaks for what Michel Foucault would term as a totalitarian power, where the state uses economic sanctions in order to secure that children and their parents acts in accordance with the law. The contra-group speaks for an, in Foucault term, individualizing power, where social workers invites clients to coorporation in order to change their behaviour and self-image. The passing of L108 can be explained by a momentarily victory of power to the discourses used by the pro-group. However, the victory in the Parliament meets new challenges when the implementation of the law reaches the social workers. The social workers personal og professional attitude towards the law decides whether or not the social worker implements and uses L108. This position can be seen as a gatekeeper position where each social worker has the power to either realize L108 or to stop L108 from being used.
Publication date2010
Number of pages127
Publishing institutionKandidatuddannelsen i Socialt Arbejde, Aalborg Universitet
ID: 33642257