From the material to the emotional?

Parenting ideals, social differentiation, and child welfare services in Hungary


  • Alexandra Szőke Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Budapest

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child welfare, caseworkers, parenting, neglect, social differentiation


The paper interrogates the recent intensification of state intervention in parenting by examining current tendencies in child-welfare caseworkers’ practices in Hungary. In this country different institutions and welfare workers have existed for many decades who have sought to influence childrearing practices. The paper argues that in order to unravel the specific character and importance of current instances of state intervention we need to examine the everyday practices of caseworkers, which are guided not only by relevant policies, but also by dominant norms of ideal parenting. Based on year-long ethnographic research the paper shows how a shift in our approach to parenting have been transforming caseworkers’ assessments of parental competence and explanations for initiating child removals during the past decade. While earlier neglect was assessed mostly in material terms, we can currently witness a shift towards the assessment of emotional ties between mothers and their children. However, these are extremely subjective and fluid notions that allow for the individual judgments and dominant values of social differentiation to play an ever more influential part in caseworkers’ decisions.






Parenting and the State