Managing conflicting professionalisms: social assistants work with unaccompanied minors within the Swedish municipal social services
Sammanfattning: This Masters thesis aimed to explore how social assistants have been impacted by the changes enforced since 2016 in their work with unaccompanied minors. They have worked in an ethically complex situation, of attempting to fulfil the needs of the unaccompanied minors, as this period has seen a restriction of the humanitarian ethos of Swedish migration policies, but also a movement towards new public management policies. As such, the research questions that guided the aim are: What challenges have social assistants encountered in their role as a social worker working with unaccompanied minors? What impacts has the interim Aliens Act had on UAMs that the social assistants have observed? How have these challenges impacted upon the discretion social assistants have? The thesis gives new insights into how unaccompanied minors needs have been conceptualised by social assistants and the organisational factors that have impacted upon the work that the social assistants do, as most studies conducted within this field were conducted before the changes implemented in 2016. Informed by a critical realist stance, where both structures and agents impact each other, the concept of the street-level bureaucrat has been employed to explore their work, in which conflicting policy goals and laws flourish. The concept of discretion has been used to explore both the structural factors impacting the social assistants, but how they have reasoned around the best course of action according to the needs that the unaccompanied minors have. Finally, the concept of professionalism has been used to analyse the justifications of the actions taken by the social assistants to fulfil the needs of the unaccompanied minors. The thesis has focused on the experiences of seven social assistants, collected through semi-structured interviews and analysed through thematic analysis. The analysis found that the social assistants questioned the Migration Agency’s ability to determine the scope of their work with unaccompanied minors and that the needs of the unaccompanied minors were placed in relation to the cost of fulfilling them. Within the social services, the social assistants had a hard time fulfilling their needs, as they felt they were not equipped to deal with them within that organisational framework. This was coupled with the impacts of new public management on the working methods within the social services. The social assistants were found to have little discretion to challenge the prevailing institutional rules that guide the treatment of unaccompanied minors within the Swedish welfare state, however employed various strategies to try and challenge them. Finally, the social assistants noted the rise of voluntary individuals and organisations that stepped in to fulfil the needs of the unaccompanied minors, where the scope of the social services ended.
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