In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Child Welfare and Child Protection in Europe

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies and Databases
  • Journals
  • Biographies
  • History of Child Welfare Policy
  • National and Local Histories of Child Welfare
  • National and Local Histories of Various Forms of Child Care
  • Research Methods
  • Resources for Teaching

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Social Work History of Child Welfare and Child Protection in Europe
Mirja Satka, Caroline Skehill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0052


This entry identifies resources on the European history of child welfare and child protection with specific reference to its variety during the past hundred years in various parts of the Continent. It will look at the literature in social work and surrounding themes related to policy, various welfare organizations, and histories of childhood. Many of the crucial ideas in the development of child welfare and protection have traveled from country to country—and also from the United States to Europe. Nevertheless, each region has developed its own applications depending on the local actors, policies, and other conditions. European states have been characterized as having three different ideal types of welfare regime: conservative corporatist, common in the Catholic regions; liberal or neo-liberal, in the Anglo-Saxon nations; and the social democratic or Scandinavian regime. However, the local or national trajectories of the European child welfare and protection do not necessarily follow these patterns; the picture is more varied, especially in eastern Europe, for which currently fewer references in English are available than for western Europe. An effort has been made to include a reasonable representation of the history of child welfare across Europe. However, we must note at the outset that it has not been possible to find specific histories of child welfare for every country that are easily accessible and in English. While some non-English references are provided, these are necessarily illustrative and limited. Also, some countries, most notably Britain, are over-represented, given the extent of scholarship available here.

Introductory Works

Since we currently lack bibliographies and comprehensive introductory presentations of the European history of child welfare, the picture provided is necessarily fragmented. The chosen references are mostly in English, but there are plenty of useful resources in other European languages. In many cases, the original work is able to convey cultural meanings better than its translation, because the proper terms may be lacking, especially in older works written when practices and organization varied more widely. Good references, however, are available that can provide a foundation and examples for innovative historical analyses in one country or for comparative approaches. Lorenz 2006 and Hering and Waaldijk 2006 provide comprehensive background for the development of European social work, social pedagogy, and social interventions, including child welfare. Turmel 2008 and Zeiher 2009 are historical introductions to European thinking and related views of normality in the history of childhood. Hetherington, et al. 1997 and Pringle 1998 are helpful to get an idea of the present variety of child welfare policies and child protection practices in most European nations. They share a comparative approach and involve illustrative case studies. Hetherington, et al. 1997 is based on social workers’ evaluations of the same child protection case in eight different European child protection systems, while Pringle 1998 includes both an introduction to child welfare policies and a case study of child sexual abuse in several European countries. The legislative history of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2007 is a useful source for the development of the international legal regulation of child welfare.

  • Hering, Sabine, and Bereteke Waaldijk. 2006. Guardians of the poor— custodians of the public: Welfare history on eastern Europe 19001960. Opladen, Germany: Barbara Budrich.

    The second chapter (pp. 35–64), by Hering, covers comparative European welfare history: “The influence of culture, denominations and ideologies on welfare history in Eastern Europe: Comparisons and challenges” applies to child welfare, and is a parallel resource with Lorenz 2006, which is more focused on the western European history of social work.

  • Hetherington, Rachael, Andrew Cooper, Philip Smith, and Gerti Wilford. 1997. Protecting children: Messages from Europe. Lyme Regis, UK: Russel House.

    This book does not provide a historical dimension as such, but it is a particularly useful example of a comparative multiple case study, and also informative on comparative action research in child welfare/protection. It pays attention to the many meanings of social space in European child protection practices. Appropriate for all levels.

  • Lorenz, Walter. 2006. Perspectives on European social work: From the birth of the nation state to the impact of globalisation. Leverkusen Opladen, Germany: Barbara Budrich.

    The first three chapters (pp. 11–2, 21–39, and 41–61) offer general, comparative background for the development of European child welfare. Appropriate for all levels.

  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2007. Legislative history of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Geneva: United Nations.

    This volume is a reference resource on the international history of children’s rights.

  • Pringle, Keith. 1998. Children and social welfare in Europe. Buckinghamshire, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    This reference does not provide a historical dimension as such but is a rich source on the differences among European child welfare policies in the 1990s. Appropriate for all levels.

  • Turmel, André. 2008. A historical sociology of childhood: Developmental thinking, categorization and graphic visualization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511489099

    Uses detailed accounts from Britain, the United States, and France, and is focused on the development of the scientific investigation of children, presenting critical inquiry into developmental thinking on children. Excellent resource for postgraduate study and research.

  • Zeiher, Helga. 2009. Institutionalization as a secular trend. In The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies. Edited by Jens Qvortrup, William A. Corsaro, and Michael-Sebastian Honig, 127–139. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This is a helpful introduction to place the history of child welfare/protection in the broad context of the evolving institutionalization of childhood.

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