In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children and Social Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • History
  • Childhood and the Welfare State
  • Social Investment Policy
  • Children’s Rights and Policy
  • Children Policy and Participation
  • Comparative Childhoods and Policy
  • Children, Families, and the State

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section

Childhood Studies Children and Social Policy
Tess Ridge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0049


Social policies play a key role in the lives of children and their families, and children rely very heavily on welfare services for their present and future well-being. Children’s lives are substantially affected by the type and quality of welfare provision available, and their needs are met through a range of policy measures, including, for example, education, health, social services, and social assistance. In the main, children live within a family setting and their needs are addressed through a range of formal and informal welfare provisions. However, the position of children within the family has meant that their particular needs and concerns can remain hidden and unacknowledged, and a historic tension has existed between the needs and rights of children, the needs and rights of parents, and the role of the state in children’s lives. The impact of social policies on children’s lives is wide ranging, encompassing both targeted provision, for example, interventions, services, and support in childhood, and policies directed at their parents and caregivers, for example, employment policies and legal regulation in relation to family formation and dissolution. Modern childhood is undergoing considerable social and economic change, and children in the 21st century live increasingly complex lives in a range of diverse family settings. Policies seek to respond to social and demographic change, but changing ideologies and constructions of childhood will also affect how governments formulate policies and provide services. Policymakers increasingly recognize that children are social actors and bearers of rights, and, alongside this development, some countries register a growing commitment toward some elements of participation of children and young people in the policymaking process. A trend is also evident toward governments taking a keen interest in the future outcomes of childhood through the development of “social investment policies,” which focus on children as “citizen workers” of the future.

General Overviews

The topic of children and social policy has been explored in many different ways. Historically, children have tended to be hidden within the family and rarely seen as individuals in their own right. Since the late 20th century a change has occurred in the ways in which children have been understood and conceptualized within policy. This trend has included, in part, a significant theoretical contribution toward our understanding of contemporary childhood from the new sociology of childhood, which positions children as active social agents with their own needs and concerns. This approach informs many of the general texts, including Qvortrup, et al. 1994, a seminal text in the new sociology of childhood, and James and James 2004, which brings together social theory, social policy, and research to explore key areas of social policy. Goldson, et al. 2002 provides a different approach to child welfare. Informed by impact of social class and socioeconomic structures on childhood, the authors take a more critical stance in relation to insights from the new sociology of childhood. Prout 2000 provides a valuable critical review of the governance of childhood at the turn of the 21st century, highlighting key tensions in the recognition of rights and agency and the increasing institutional control of childhood through policy and practice. Both Wells 2009 and Montgomery and Kellet 2009 engage with the shaping of childhood and policy and practice on a local and a global level.

  • Goldson, Barry, Michael Lavalette, and Jim McKechnie, eds. Children, Welfare and the State. London: SAGE, 2002.

    A critical review of children and welfare that takes issue with the “new sociology” of childhood to argue that social class and socioeconomic structure are key factors in the development of child welfare and the positioning of children as welfare recipients. Notes the tensions inherent in welfare discourse in relation to how children are to be conceptualized.

  • James, Alison, and Adrian L. James. Constructing Childhood: Theory, Policy, Social Practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    A sociological review of children and policy drawing on the cultural politics of childhood to examine the role of adults in shaping childhood policy. The authors argue that how social policies for children are shaped is informed by particular discourses of childhood, ideological stances, and responses to social events, which can combine to create very particular constructions of childhood.

  • Montgomery, Heather, and Mary Kellet. Children and Young People’s Worlds: Developing Frameworks for Integrated Practice. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2009.

    This text explores children’s welfare on national and international levels. Linking the local and the global, the authors engage with a wide range of welfare issues and practices. Drawing on the voices of children and young people and using a case-study approach, they highlight key issues in children’s lives in relation to policy initiatives and practice interventions.

  • Prout, Alan. “Children’s Participation: Control and Self-Realisation in British Late Modernity.” Children & Society 14 (2000): 304–315.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1099-0860.2000.tb00185.x

    Written at the turn of the 21st century, Prout’s article explores the nature of contemporary childhood in Britain to critically highlight the tensions inherent in the relationship between policy and practice and children’s rights and agency. He argues that despite evidence of enhanced recognition of children’s rights and agency, public policy and practice are exerting an increasing degree of institutional control, surveillance, and regulation in children’s lives.

  • Qvortrup, Jens, Marjatta Bardy, Giovanni Sgritta, and Helmut Wintersberger, eds. Childhood Matters. Social Theory, Practice and Politics. Aldershot, UK: Avebury, 1994.

    A seminal text that brings new sociological insights to our understanding of childhood, welfare, and the intergenerational contract. In the introduction to the book, Qvortrup sets out the conceptual distinction between children being seen as “beings” in childhood and “human becomings” destined for future adulthood. This is a key tension inherent in much policy formulation, especially with regard to policies of social investment.

  • Wells, Karen. Childhood in a Global Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009.

    Wells’s book is an excellent and accessible introduction into global issues of social constructions of childhood and the governance of childhood. Drawing on the new sociology of childhood, the author takes a historical and comparative approach to childhood through a critical examination of a wide range of policy areas, including family policy, war, children’s rights development, and child protection.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.