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‘I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but …’ – laypersons challenging the authority of professionals in Swedish child protection

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift
Författare Andreas Liljegren
Staffan Höjer
Torbjörn Forkby
Publicerad i Nordic Social Work Research
Volym 8
Nummer/häfte 1
Sidor 50-63
ISSN 2156-857X
Publiceringsår 2018
Publicerad vid Institutionen för socialt arbete
Sidor 50-63
Språk en
Länkar doi.org/10.1080/2156857X.2017.13767...
Ämnesord Beslutsfattande, lekmän, sociala utskott, politiker, styrning, lay-person, decision-making, child protection
Ämneskategorier Socialt arbete


In the early days of professionalism, occupations were characterised by decision-making freedoms and strong jurisdictional rights. Since then, several ways of controlling and monitoring professionals have been introduced alongside the rise and reformulations of the modern welfare state. Professions have been challenged by, bureaucracy, market solutions and demands for transparency. These are examples of systematically developed counterforces to professional autonomy. A much less studied way of controlling and monitoring professionals is the institution of laypersons, which finds its legitimacy on the grounds that non-experts play the superior role to professionals. Through layperson committees, Swedish child protection advocates have extensive rights when deciding upon some of the most intrusive decisions that the state can make against families, namely, whether children are to be removed from their parents. This article analyses how laypersons challenge the authority of professionals in Swedish child protection. It is based on observations of layperson committees and semi-structured interviews with committee members. The results show that the jurisdictional boundaries are constructed in relation to groupthink, where the laypersons can be the cure for social workers developing unprofessional behaviours and remain as outsiders to the professionals. Another important finding of the study is the ambivalence and paradoxes that arise when it comes to understanding the layperson’s role in relation to at least five topics: formal training; identity as a professional, theoretical knowledge; the normative field laypersons should relate to; and the layperson’s impact. The ambivalence of the ideological boundaries can be seen as a weakness for the layperson.

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