The Norwegian Child Welfare Services is a much-debated institution, characterized by high public interest. This dissertation focuses on discussion and statements concerning the Norwegian Child Welfare system in the digital public sphere, and how the use of social media can provide opportunities for new voices and new perspectives - as well as new challenges for child welfare, society and research. The dissertation discusses potentials for participatory citizenship in the digital public sphere in the field of child welfare, as well as potentials and challenges involved in the child welfare research on social media.
The dissertation is based on qualitative text analysis and case analysis of texts (posts) from various social networking cites, with emphasis on material from Facebook and Twitter. The dissertation consists of three articles, two empirical and one methodological. The first article investigates whether the use of social media contributes to public participation and whether this can be understood as participatory citizenship in a field such as child protection.The second article addresses the protests against Norwegian Child Welfare Services that are unfolding on international and Norwegian Facebook groups. The third article aims to give insight into the ethical judgement involved in research on digital communities where it might be challenging to decide whether certain material is public or not. In addition, the paper reflects on the social consequences of understanding some participants as vulnerable versus understanding them as citizens, in a social work/child welfare context on social media.
Taken together, the dissertation has highlighted different forms of participation and how this participation can be understood, in a citizenship perspective and in a research ethical context. Furthermore, how participation in the digital public can lead to challenges and / or bring new knowledge to the academic field of child welfare research.
The dissertation illuminates how private experiences about perceived injustice and exclusion are shared in digital publics, aiming to change the existing child welfare system. It illustrates how citizens by using social networking cites, gets the opportunity, individually or collectively, to challenge the power of the child welfare system. Participation does not necessarily equate with political influence, but both the participation and opportunities that arise for response brings potentials for empowerment and participatory citizenship. This may apply both to the broad participation of all those involved in statements and discussions on child welfare issues on social media, as well as for groups of parents who have experience from the child welfare system.