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The social construction of child neglect Marshall, Georgina A.


Using a feminist standpoint perspective, this qualitative study began with a review of child neglect theory and child welfare policy, incorporating an analysis of the ideologies under pinning the constructs of motherhood and the family. This highlighted how children's welfare is inextricably bound to the welfare of women, and how mother work is not valued in the ruling relations of patriarchy. Next, drawing upon Dorothy Smith's methodology of examining the conceptual practices of the ruling apparatuses, data from eighteen case files from the 1991 child neglect caseload of one B.C. Family and Child Service office were analyzed. The case families were predominantly headed by poor,single mothers, seven of whom were identified by the ministry as Native. Themes emerging from the analysis show that mothers' behaviors, considered out of context, are used routinely as the indicators of neglect, and that mother-blaming in assessment and intervention is common. Examples of institutional racism were found, and intervention was shown to function in many situations as a policing strategy. Neither the effects of poverty, nor the violence by male family members were factored into the assessments of women's ability to care for their children. The absence of the women's voices stood out in the data. The implications for social work praxis are discussed, in terms of reframing the relevance to practice of gender, 'race', class, and other determinants of social inequality.

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