Social Care of Children - the Medias Image and Practitioners Views

Project leader

Funding source

Forte - Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2001
End date: 31/12/2003
Funding: 1300000 SEK


The guiding question for this project was: How does the Swedish press portray disadvantaged children (aged 0-18) and child welfare work? We have also investigated the meaning of media reporting on child welfare for social workers and the interplay between press and social work on the local level.

With its position “between” the general public and public institutions, mass media has an important position in defining social problems and setting the agenda for topics like child welfare. So what kind of picture of disadvantaged children and youth does the press mediate? Stereotypes and simplistic generalizations on children and youth as either innocent victims or threatening perpetrators are well-known from the history of Swedish child welfare legislation and other types of texts on children. How does the press treat this always present dichotomy? We have manually followed five daily newspapers (Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Länstidningen (Södertälje), Skånska Dagbladet, Sydsvenska Dagbladet) during four months (January, March, May and July) in 2001. During this period we found 1.180 news items that answered to our stipulations.

Close to 50 % of the cuttings focus on children and youth as victims of different types of violence and threats, most often outside their homes in different types of public places. Somewhat fewer articles deal with children and youth as perpetrators, involved in different types of crimes and violence. A relatively small portion focus on children exposed to poverty and housing problems. Young children (age 0-12) get less space in the newspapers than teenagers. Girls and boys are equally often presented as victims, while boys ten times as often as girls appear as perpetrators. So the dichotomy works well when analyzing media reporting especially when combined with class, gender and ethnicity.

Our qualitative analysis is concentrated on press coverage of younger children as perpetrators and teenagers as victims, two themes that are more or less absent in media research. Theoretically these themes are analyzed against the background of contemporary theories on childhood developed during the 1990s.

It is rather unusual that social workers in child welfare are mentioned in press items on disadvantaged children (18% of the cuttings where public authorities are mentioned). The police is instead the public authority most often mentioned (77%). When child welfare is mentioned the reporting can not be described as negative (most articles are neutral or positive, the latter is particularly evident in the local press). This finding stands in sharp contrast to social workers own belief, as it was identified in two focus group interviews carried out within the frame work of the research project. In our different publications quantative data on press reporting are analyzed in relation to qualitative data on media reporting of so called child abuse horror stories and compared to international research, especially from UK and USA.

Last updated on 2017-24-03 at 12:54