Verdighetsforvaltning i liv på grensen
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Point of departure and research questions In 2006 the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion (BLD) funded a comprehensive study of children, young people and their parents from households with long-term low income. Long-term low income was defined as less than 60 % of the median income (EUs poverty definition) for at least three of the last five years. The sample was to include families with majority and minority background from different geographical regions. The overall goal of the study was to develop better knowledge about the daily life of parents and children from households with long-term low income, in contrast to families who experience short-term economic hardship. The study addressed three research questions: â€¢ What strategies are used by children and grown-ups to cope with the effects of long-term low income, when strategies for coping with short-term economic hardship are no longer sufficient? â€¢ In what ways are children and grown-ups from households with long-term low income actors in relation to public and private services? â€¢ To what extent will ongoing state initiatives through the municipalities reach this group, and to what extent will these initiatives rather reach those from households experiencing short-term economic hardship, who are easier to help? Background The study builds on a tradition of qualitative approaches to child poverty and focuses on the stories told by children and parents. It has been inspired by American research among single mothers living in more or less permanent poverty, and shaped by encounters with households all over Norway who have worked hard to make ends meet for a long time. The analysis of the stories we were told led to the development of an interpretation we have chosen to call ”management of dignity”. Dignity is closely related to ideas of equality. One may ask if ideas of equality are associated with all participation in modern societies. Full citizenship builds on ideas of a fundamental equality between the citizens. The families we encountered worked hard to achieve participation in this sense. Their economic situation forced most of them to live lives at the limits of what they could manage. These lives at the limit threatened to place the families in more or less permanent positions of unequality. Management of dignity manet efforts to counteract this inequality through strategies characterised by adaptation, counter-reactions or resistance. Sample We interviewed the grown-ups in 35 households with 69 children in all, as well as 25 children in 23 of the households. 18 households were interviewed in Oslo, 17 outside of Oslo. In 22 of the households the parents were Norwegian, the remaining were immigrants or refugees. The majority (25) were single-parent households. Of the 10 two-parent households, only one was Norwegian. 17 households were recruited through various NGOs, the rest through contact persons in municipalities who participated in projects connected with state-initiated efforts to combat child poverty. Important strategies for parents and children The first research issue concerned children and parents’ strategies to cope with the effects of long-term low income, when short-term strategies are no longer sufficient. One salient characteristic of the households we met was the great significance of public support for their economic situation. To some extent this has to do with recruitment, as large parts of the sample were recruited through professionals administrating social security. However parts of the sample were recruited independently of public services, through Christian NGOs working with poor families. All the families received more or less comprehensive public support to supplement their income, inde-pendently of the way they were recruited. The analysis shows that the support received by the families had a crucial significance for their economic situation. Several solved their most pertinent needs by cutting down on their personal needs. Some were lucky and found caseworkers who sympathized with them and their families, while others made employees in Christian NGOs contact social security on their behalf. Analysen viser at den støtten de fikk hadde kritisk betydning for husholdenes økonomi. In other words caseworkers’ use of discretion was of great importance, and our informants felt more or less totally dependent on the ways any individual caseworker used his or her discretion in their case. We found that failing health was part of the stories we were told about life conditions that they had no control over, in line with the dependence on public support. http://www.google.com/search?source=ie7&q=norsk+engelsk+ordbok&rls=com.microsoft:no:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&rlz=1I7GGLL_no The stories we collected also showed that the large majority of the households had weak social networks. Often it is difficult to know whether the absence of a supportive network created difficulties for the parents in the labour market, or whether, on the contrary, their lack of contact with the labour market made their social network erode. The children we interviewed told many of the same stories which are shown in similar research. Children in households with long-term poor economy act strategically in order to take care of their interests within a context of scant household resources. It also seemed as if the children’s most important coping strategies had to do with their experiences of being different from their peers. Strategies could be adaptive, counteractive or resistant. Some could also use more active and maybe less functional strategies. Actors in relation to public and private services? The second issue concerned ways parents and children were actors themselves in relation to public and private services. The parents we interviewed experienced ongoing economic hardship. As shown above, the households depended on long-lasting economic support to a significant degree. At the same time a recurring theme in the stories was that they did not receive the support they thought they were entitled to. In these stories the responsibility for the discrepancies was attributed to the authorities while the parents did their best in a difficult situation. Thus was scarcity recreated to new expressions of dignity. Coping with absolute poverty gives back to those experiencing this an experience of dignity. We interviewed children in households which struggled to make ends meet. At the same time the children’s stories about their everyday lives were not very different from what we would expect from children who do not experience economic hardship. Still, the stories are not quite similar. Ostensible similarities with other children’s situation actually have to do with redefining experienced inequality, with no longer being different from other children. The children we interviewed solved their tasks in about the same way as other children. But in addition their stories show that beneath their strategies there is a need to change the children’s experiences of being different, of dealing with more difficult living situations than their peers. A question can be asked as to whether living in households characterised by long-term economic hardship indirectly influences the stories children create about themselves and their everyday lives. The next question is thus whether there are parallels between the children’s and the parents’ stories, in the sense that experienced inequalities are recreated into new expressions of dignity for the children as well. Do the state-initiated services reach this group? The third research question concerned the extent to which the ongoing, state-initiated initiative giving selected municipalities means to develop services, targets this particular group. The alternative is that these services to a larger extent target those experiencing short-term economic hardship, which are easier to help. Our grown-ups participants mostly answered this question in the negative. Many of them did not know about any special initiatives aimed at combating child poverty. However, this does not necessarily mean that the services are mismatched in some ways. But it does seem as if the initiative and its local implementation have not led to dramatic changes in the situation of several participants. Alternatively it may appear that services the families have received have not been understood as part of any particular initiative. This was a bit surprising as half of them were recruited through contact persons in the public services responsible for implementing the initiative locally. We think that part of the explanation has to do with characteristics of our sample. As discussed above, all of them felt that they had to engage in a continuous battle to meet the needs of the household while they at the same time never received public support they were entitled to. Many stories were told by participants who felt that they were treated unjustly, and that professionals’ use of discretion resulted in positive treatment of others, but not them. At the same time it is worth noting that several had positive experiences as well, which may, albeit indirectly, indicate that the targeted services reached some of them at least. In particular this pertains to services targeted at specific households. Several stories were told about how negative experiences with the helping services changed when the parents met a particularly understanding â€œhelper”. This person could be employed by the social services or the child welfare services, or by an NGO, but it did not seem as if type of employment mattered. The main thing was that the parents found an ally which knew the ropes and could function as a mediator between them and the complicated ”system”, representing the establishment that they felt they were unable to be a part of. Our material did not show any stories about the extent to which efforts to increase inter-departmental and inter-professional collaboration contributed to a better and more effective targeting of households with long-term low income. Nor can we contribute with any conclusions as to whether the initiative discussed in this report has been successful for those suffering short-term economic hardship. ”Management of dignity” as a central analytic dimension During this project expressions of dignity and â€œmanagement of dignity” became central analytic dimensions for understanding the data. It is important for both grown-ups and children to feel dignified and equal to other citizens even though they have little money. In our view it is very important to include a perspective that is sensitive to this underlying management of dignity, as this is a basis for significant actions in the daily lives of those living with low income over time. Thus awareness of this perspective is significant whether one meets the families as a researcher, a practitioner or an administrator.Rapporten presenterer resultater fra en studie av familier som lever med lang tids fattigdom. Den er inspirert av amerikansk fattigdomsforskning og formet av møter med husholdninger over hele landet som over lang tid har slitt med å få endene til å møtes. I alt intervjuet vi 35 voksne og 25 barn. Familiene hadde både etnisk norsk bakgrunn og minoritetsbakgrunn. I bearbeidingen av fortellingene som ble samlet inn, utviklet vi en fortolkning vi har valgt å kalle for verdighetsforvaltning. Foreldrene fortalte ofte at de ikke fikk den offentlige støtten de hadde krav på. Foreldrene plasserte ansvaret hos offentlige myndigheter samtidig som de formidlet at de gjorde det beste ut av situasjonen. På den måten ble opplevelser av ulikhet omskapt til nye verdighetsuttrykk, som kunne dempe foreldrenes følelse av skamfullhet over situasjonen de var i. Barna vi snakket med løser sine oppgaver omtrent som alle andre. Strategiene deres er de samme som andre barns. Men i tillegg viser historiene de fortalte, at det bak det strategiske arbeidet skjuler seg et behov for å omgjøre opplevelser av å være annerledes andre barn. Spørsmålet er om det løper paralleller i deres fortellerarbeid til foreldrenes historier – om også barna er opptatt av hvordan ulikhet kan omskapes til nye verdighetsuttrykk.