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David Pålsson

About me

Lecturer and researcher. My research focuses mainly child protection, in particular out-of-home care (foster and residential care). Marketisation, audit and public follow-up of out-of-home care. Economic deprivation among children and social assistance decision-making when children are concerned. 

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Licence to Care – Licensing Terms for For-Profit Residential Care for Children in Four Nordic Countries

    2022. David Pålsson (et al.). Nordisk välfärdsforskning | Nordic Welfare Research 7 (1), 23-35


    Licensing is a public instrument used to control welfare services. One such service is residential care for children,which is targeted at children who experience maltreatment in their home environment and/or have behaviouralproblems and have been separated from their parents by the authorities. In Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark,residential care may be provided by public or private (not-for-profit or for-profit) providers. The aim of this articleisto explore and compare how public authorities in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, license residential carefor children. The data consist of application forms and instructions for how to apply for a licence as well as interviewswith key staff responsible for licensing. The findings show differences in how national agencies license residentialcare providers. Licensing models may be centralised/general (Sweden, Finland) or regionalised/specialised towardsresidential care (Norway, Denmark). The process can be more investigative (Sweden, Norway) or consultative (Fin-land, Denmark), and the review of standards formality-oriented (Sweden, Finland, Norway) or content-oriented(Denmark). Finally, the models of supervision post-licence vary in terms of being non-intervening (Finland), semi-intervening (Sweden, Norway) or intervening (Denmark). The discussion centres on the possible contribution of thedifferent models to the regulation of the residential care markets.

    Read more about Licence to Care – Licensing Terms for For-Profit Residential Care for Children in Four Nordic Countries
  • Barnperspektiv och ekonomiskt bistånd: I vilken utsträckning kan generositet respektive restriktivitet ses som ett uttryck för skilda strategier?

    2022. David Pålsson, Stefan Wiklund. Socialvetenskaplig tidskrift 29 (1)

    Read more about Barnperspektiv och ekonomiskt bistånd
  • A Policy Decoupled from Practice

    2021. David Pålsson, Stefan Wiklund. British Journal of Social Work


    In many countries, there are calls for children to be allowed to participate in social work decision-making. This article analyses child participation vis-à-vis social assistance (SA), which is a municipal cash benefit representing the last safety net. In Sweden, SA is part of the professional field of social work and national policy recommends that children are consulted. The aim is to analyse local policies and practices regarding child participation, and the data are based on case studies in six social service offices. Unlike most participation studies, children’s participation is conceived as an institutional pressure and the concept of decoupling is used to examine how local authorities relate to participation. The findings show that in local policies there is a general openness towards participation, but in practice no efforts are being made to promote participation. The absence of participation is analysed as deriving from organisational barriers (practices are adult-centred and child welfare units are seen as responsible for participation) and the scepticism of social workers (participation is an infringement on parental obligations and children should be protected from involvement in financial issues). The article ends with a discussion on the decoupling and adequacy of children’s participation in settings comparable with Swedish SA.

    Read more about A Policy Decoupled from Practice
  • A Crisis in Swedish Child Welfare? On Risk, Control and Trust

    2021. Tommy Lundström (et al.). Social Work & Society 19 (1)


    In recent decades, Swedish out-of-home care has been criticised for a number of reasons. In this article, based on research and public debate, we discuss this criticism as well as the institutional responses that have been evoked. We use the concepts of risk, control and trust to structure the analysis, which outlines three core issues portrayed as problematic: a) certain principles of the Swedish child welfare system with relevance for the placement of children and adolescence, b) the quality of out-of-home care and c) the privatisation of out-of-home care and the possibility of generating profits on such services. The institutional response to the criticism has mainly been increased control measures, but the development is not uniform - trust and control-oriented responses are often combined. We conclude the article by relating Swedish out-of-home care to international child welfare trends, discussing the institutional responses and the implications for social work practice.

    Read more about A Crisis in Swedish Child Welfare? On Risk, Control and Trust
  • Local translations of a universal concept

    2020. David Pålsson, Stefan Wiklund. Children & society


    In recent years, scholars have called for studies exploring how key concepts originating from the children's rights discourse are understood in local contexts. In Sweden, national policy advocates that a child perspective should guide social assistance (SA), a cash benefit constituting society's last safety net. The study analyses the child perspective as an idea (i.e. an ambiguous principle), which is translated (i.e. reformulated and interpreted) at the local level. The findings indicate multiple and partly inconsistent translations of a child perspective. The study argues that it is unclear what adopting a child perspective implies for children in families receiving SA.

    Read more about Local translations of a universal concept
  • Securing the floor but not raising the ceiling? Operationalising care quality in the inspection of residential care for children in Sweden

    2020. David Pålsson. European Journal of Social Work 23 (1), 118-130


    In many countries, inspections are employed as a central instrument to the promotion of good social work practice, but how inspections operationally should achieve this is not evident. By utilizing data from guidelines, inter-views and observations, the aim of the article is to analyze how the Swedish Inspectorate operationalizes care quality within the service residential care for children. Analytically, the Inspectorate is regarded as an open system that is receptive to different ideas of how to operationalize care quality. The results show that: a) the standards display a marked variation, change annually and are similar across all homes, b) there is a limited link to good quality care as it is defined in empirical research, c) there are several driving forces for care aspects to inspect and, in general, the distinct standards pertain to formal re-quirements, while how the care is provided is associated with more indistinct standards and d) if there is no obvious malpractice in care provided, the in-spections appear to have rather unclear formative effects. The results are inter alia discussed regarding whether inspections foster the idea that the ‘floor’ of the care is raised (i.e. securing a basic level of care) but not the ‘ceiling’ (i.e. maximizing care).

    Read more about Securing the floor but not raising the ceiling? Operationalising care quality in the inspection of residential care for children in Sweden
  • The Prerequisites and Practices of Auditing Residential Care

    2018. David Pålsson, Stefan Wiklund, Marie Sallnäs.

    Thesis (Doc)

    The aim of this dissertation is to describe and analyse the prerequisites and practices of auditing Swedish residential care for children. Residential care is a complex intervention provided to children in vulnerable life situations. The care is extensively delivered by private providers and shows difficulties in demonstrating clearly positive treatment effects. Licensing and inspections are policy instruments to address alleged quality problems in decentralised and marketised welfare services. However, in research there are mixed opinions on the ability of audits to generate improved service quality.

    The dissertation consists of four papers exploring central facets of the audit system. The empirical material is based on interviews (n=50) with inspectors and residential staff, documentation (n=286) in terms of guidelines and license/inspection decisions and observations (n=12) at inspection-related events. Each paper includes a unique set of data.

    Paper I analyses the controls that private residential homes undergo prior to their entry into the market. The results show that a majority of applicants are granted a license and that the controls do not reduce the need for ex post control. There is limited guidance on care content and research evidence is weakly incorporated in the controls. Overall, the state exerts limited influence over the composition and professional development of the care market.

    Paper II explores the operationalisation process of care quality in inspections. The results show that the standards display a marked variation and there is no differentiation between different residential homes. In general, the standards focus on reducing malpractice and not maximising care quality. In practice, the inspections are often discussion-based and standards relating to work with children are often indistinct.

    Paper III analyses how inspections are perceived by representatives from residential homes. The results show that inspections induce reflection and to some extent shape the administrative parts of care, but also that it is difficult to discern the actual impact of the inspections on the work. The inspections appear to bring a degree of stability and legitimacy to the work, but there are sometimes tensions between standards and professional judgment.

    Paper IV studies the influence the inspection process grants children in care. The results suggest that different inspectorial rationales (regulative, supportive and protective) may influence the agency children exert and that it is difficult to allow children’s views to have a substantial impact on the process. Overall, there tends to be a gap between what the children find important and what the audits can address in concrete terms.

    The theoretical ideas used to analyse the results are derived from institutional organisational theory and the thesis on the audit society. The overall analysis shows that 1) making certain core care aspects auditable and ensuring their impact is difficult (e.g., children-staff relationships, children’s views and use of research knowledge), 2) the system has a restrained character and is in many senses associated with inconclusive formative effects, 3) the use of uniform goals does not necessarily equal a more suitable care provision and 4) the audits signify strong symbolic values. Despite the limitations, the audits may help to discipline care providers, secure a minimum level relative to the audited care aspects and induce reflection among auditees.

    Read more about The Prerequisites and Practices of Auditing Residential Care
  • Entering the Market

    2017. David Pålsson. British Journal of Social Work


    In Sweden, residential care for children to a great extent takes place in a care market, and a precondition for private care providers to enter the market is a licence issued by the state. The aim of the study is to describe and analyse the regulatory conditions for and output of licensing in the market of residential care for children in Sweden. Analytically, licensing is considered a formative mechanism, which means that it shapes the development of the supply side of residential care. The empirical material consists of an analysis of formal licence decisions and interviews with inspectors managing licences. The results show that the majority of the applicants were granted a licence during the year of the study and that the licensing process consists of a few stringent standards. Further, the stringent standards are influenced only to a limited extent by knowledge generated from research on residential care and the applicants are granted a fair degree of leeway as regards how to organise the care content. The findings are discussed based on whether the licensing system takes advantage of its potential and what it may entail for the residential care market at a broader level.

    Read more about Entering the Market
  • Conditioned agency? The role of children in the audit of Swedish residential care

    2017. David Pålsson. Child & Family Social Work 22 (Supplement S2), 33-42


    At a policy level, governments increasingly stress the importance of children's rights and their ability to participate in decision-making in child welfare services. An example of this is that the Swedish inspectorate targeting children in residential care is required to consult children and to take account of their opinions. This paper details a study exploring the influence that the inspectorate grants children and particularly how children's views influence the inspection process. The study draws on interviews and observations of inspectors as well as an analysis of a representative sample (n = 147) of documentation from inspections performed during 2012. The result indicates different inspectorial rationales, which in turn influence the importance children's opinions are assigned in the inspection process. Moreover, the findings demonstrate difficulties in giving children's views substantial impact on the inspection process. This can be attributed to the fact that most of the regulatory quality criteria used by the authority diverge from the aspects of care that children attach most importance to. The study adds empirical findings to how the participation of children is realized during inspection.

    Read more about Conditioned agency? The role of children in the audit of Swedish residential care
  • Adjusting to standards

    2016. David Pålsson. Nordic Social Work Research 6 (3), 222-233


    In recent years, state inspection of Swedish residential care for children has been reinforced. This study explores how inspections are perceived from the point of view of residential staff. The empirical material is based on interviews (n = 23) with residential staff and managers (n = 55) of residential homes subject to requirements from the Swedish Inspectorate. The material has been analysed using concepts shedding light on the different aspects of how audit affects ‘auditees’. The results suggest that inspections have mainly shaped the administrative part of care; that compliance with regulatory standards bring about stability in the work performed; that the standard-setting sometimes creates tensions between professional judgment and formal authority; and that inspections play an accreditation role for the residential homes. The implications of this are discussed, e.g. that the regulatory standards seem to target aspects of care that are alternatives to those of evidence-based practice, that general standards to some extent challenge the possibilities of organising the care according to the individual needs of the children and that the receptiveness of professionals to inspection ideas entails both possibilities and obstacles for the development of a professional field.

    Read more about Adjusting to standards

Show all publications by David Pålsson at Stockholm University