Doing Parenthood with and by Professionals – Parallel Session 4 – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24TH – 10:30

The Doing and Displaying of Being a Parent as a Consequence of Social Services Work. A research project about mothers and fathers with children in residential childcare – Eichhorn (Siegen/GER)

Representations of Parenting in High Conflict Families: Professionals and parents views – Mauri/Fargion/Bertotti/Moretto (Trento/ITA)


The Doing and Displaying of Being a Parent as a Consequence of Social Services Work. A research project about mothers and fathers with children in residential childcare – Eichhorn, Anja (Siegen/GER)

In my dissertation which is realised in the context of the DFG (German Research Foundation) graduate program ‘Consequences of Social Services Work’ (Folgen sozialer Hilfen) at the University of Siegen, I examine the consequences residential child care (Heimerziehung) has on parenting and parental identity of involved mothers and fathers.

The main purpose of residential child care is to ensure the wellbeing of children and adolescents as well as to promote their development, education and participation. Depending on the young person’s age and level of development as well as the possibilities of improving the upbringing conditions in their family, residential child care shall either try to achieve a return to the family, prepare for upbringing in another family or prepare for an independent life. Additional work with the young person’s parent(s) shall help to improve the upbringing conditions in the family. However, the cooperation between institutions and parents is often ambivalent because a child’s out-of-home-placement goes hand in hand with a public questioning of parenthood (Pomey 2015: 156) whilst the need for ‘being worked with’ continuously confronts parents with their own failure and partially deprives them from their parenting role (Trede 2017: 251).

We can hardly imagine the word ‘parents’ without a normative context (Gerlach 2017: 21), and speaking about family and parents, we often encounter normatively charged metaphors (Bauer/Wiezorek 2009: 188). One model (Leitbild) often cited in scientific literature is the model of ‘responsible parenthood’ (‘verantwortete Elternschaft’). The term coined by Franz Xaver Kaufmann (see Huinink 2009) refers to the “normative, largely shared expectations […] that society and the social environment direct towards parents and their upbringing achievements, or that parents direct to themselves” (ibid.: n.p.; translation A.E.). What is interesting is that references to parents as “subjects of responsibility” often take place in debates on child welfare, social problems, poverty and health risks, with a focus mainly on those parents who are marked as ethically or socially deviant (Betz/Bischoff 2018).

Using narrative interviews and a positioning analysis (Lucius-Hoene/Deppermann 2004), I want to reconstruct mothers’ and fathers’ discursive practices of parenting and their self-portrayal as parents, both in the context of the social services work and with regard to addressing processes within it. By referring to the theoretical concepts of “Doing Family” (Jurczyk 2014) and “Displaying Family” (Finch 2007), which I transfer to a concept of “Doing and Displaying Being A Parent”, I understand parenting as performativity and aim to examine how this can be conceptualised as a consequence of residential child care. The research is highly relevant, as there are only very few research results available on how parents marked as ‘at risk’ and standing under public observation relate to ascriptions in the discourse on ‘good parenting’.

My project is still at the beginning. A certainly interesting contribution to the conference could be to present the state of research as well as research needs on the topic and initial findings. I assume that I will have made the first findings by September.


Bauer, Petra & Wiezorek, Christine (2009): Familienbilder professioneller SozialpädagogInnen. In P.-I. Villa & B. Thiessen (Eds.), Mütter – Väter: Diskurse, Medien, Praxen (pp. 173–190). Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot.

Betz, Tanja & Bischoff, Stefanie (2018): Machtvolle Zuschreibungen ‚guter‘ Elternschaft, Sozial Extra 42(3), 38–41.

Finch, Janet (2007): Displaying Families. Sociology, 41(1),65–81.

Gerlach, Irene (2017): Elternschaft und Elternpflichten im Spannungsfeld zwischen Leitbildern und Alltag. In I. Gerlach (Ed.), Elternschaft (pp. 21–47). Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

Huinink, Johannes (2009): Wandel der Familienentwicklung: Ursachen und Folgen, Accessed November 14, 2020.

Jurczyk, Karin (2014): Doing Family – der Practical Turn der Familienwissenschaften. In A. Steinbach, M. Hennig, O. Arránz Becker (Eds.), Familie im Fokus der Wissenschaft (pp. 117–138). Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.

Lucius-Hoene, Gabriele & Deppermann, Arnulf (2004): Rekonstruktion narrativer Identität. Ein Arbeitsbuch zur Analyse narrativer Interviews. 2. Auflage. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Pomey, Marion (2015): Fremdunterbringung von Kindern: Zur Entscheidungsrelevanz normativer Ordnung von Elternschaft. In S. Fegter, C. Heite, J. Mierendorff, M. Richter (Eds.). Neue Aufmerksamkeiten für Familie. Diskurse, Bilder und Adressierungen in der Sozialen Arbeit (pp. 149–159). Lahnstein: Verlag neue praxis GmbH.

Trede, Wolfgang (2017): Elternarbeit. In D. Kreft & I. Mielenz (Eds.): Wörterbuch soziale Arbeit. Aufgaben, Praxisfelder, Begriffe und Methoden der Sozialarbeit und Sozialpädagogik (pp. 250–252). 8., vollständig überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. Weinheim, Basel: Beltz Juventa.

Representations of Parenting in High Conflict Families: Professionals and parents views – Mauri, Diletta / Fargion, Silvia / Bertotti, Teresa / Moretto, Giulia (Trento/ITA)

High conflict in divorce and separation, in families with children, presents huge challenges to all subjects involved, as well as to all professionals whose task is to support parents and their children in such circumstances. Several research studies have focused on the nature and characteristics of high conflict and on the impact of high conflict on children. Less explored is the issue of how on one hand the parents face their tasks when in such a relational turmoil, and how, on the other, professionals a recognizant and in contact with parents’ experiences.

In our presentation we intend to discuss the first outcomes from a research project, “Constructions of parenting on insecure grounds (CoPInG), which aims to be a contribution to filling this void and to provide an understanding of the perception of their role, of the lay pedagogy, and of the challenges perceived by parents who go through a conflictual separation. Our proposal is to compare parents’ and professional representations.

The study is ongoing and is conducted in northern Italy. By now it has involved professionals variously interested in high conflict parenting and parents, both mothers and fathers. We conducted semi-structured interviews and focus groups with professionals in order to explore the most significant and recurring themes in the intervention with high conflictual parents. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with parents, in order to explore the daily practices and challenges of parenting in such circumstances as well as how professional interventions were perceived.

The first analysis of interviews’ transcriptions, using a grounded theory approach, shows how there are relevant clashes in perspective between professionals and parents. While professionals generally tend to perceive parents as totally absorbed in the conflict to the point of completely disregard their children, interviews with parents highlight the social pressures that parents perceive, the high level of anxiety in relation to children, the complexities of dealing with the daily tasks of parenting, and particularly the role played by the gender dimension in such circumstances.