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Restructuring the child welfare dialectic : state-community interactions and communnity responses in the governance of child welfare in rural and remote localities Gillespie, Judy Lillian

Abstract

The challenges facing child welfare and child protection systems in the 21st century are resulting in efforts to restructure their governance across western industrialized nations, including Canada. These challenges must be situated within the historic and contemporary crises in the welfare state, as well as broader questions regarding the governance of child welfare in an era of budget cutbacks and introduction of decentralized planning and service provision. A key question concerns how to understand the evolving relationship between state and communities, and the impact of restructuring on state-community relationships. This research examines efforts to restructure the governance of child welfare in three rural and remote communities in northwestern Alberta following the devolution of child welfare responsibilities from the provincial government to Regional Child and Family Service Authorities. This examination is informed by a conceptual framework that views the governance of child welfare as a set of dialectic relationships among children, parents, communities, and the state. The concept of the dialectic highlights the mutually reinforcing relationships between these various elements that are simultaneously autonomous, (inter)dependent to some degree, and parts of a whole system, in this case the system that provides for child welfare. Relationships among these elements are characterized by tensions, contradiction and conflict, making the governance of child welfare complex, problematic and constantly changing. The research focuses on the relationship between state and communities and reveals the important roles played by local cultural, institutional, and economic factors in shaping state-community interactions relevant to the decentralization of child welfare governance. The research demonstrates the importance of understanding how the complexities of intra-community relations, and intra-community change affect the way communities relate to various levels and formations of the state as decentralized governance of child welfare is structured and applied. This finding suggests that the concept of "network governance," informed by participatory governance principles, can be helpful in developing policy frameworks that effectively address the variations and complexities inherent in decentralized child welfare governance, and the high degree of institutional flexibility such governance requires.

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