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Emelie Shanks

About me

In 2016, I defended my thesis called 'Managing social work. Organisational conditions and everyday work for managers in the Swedish social services'. Since then, my research has mainly concerned the organisation of social services and aspects of out-of-home care for children. 

Research

  • Managing social work. Organisational conditions and everyday work for managers in the Swedish social services.
  • Child welfare as market - on the shaping of the supply side of residential care.

Research projects

Publications

A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Privatisation of residential care for children and youth in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden

    2021. Emelie Shanks (et al.). Nordisk välfärdsforskning | Nordic Welfare Research 6 (3), 128-141

    Article

    Few studies have investigated the privatisation of residential care for children and youth, and no studies have compared, mapped, and discussed the care markets that have developed in the Nordic countries. Here, we map and discuss the role of providers of residential care for children and youth in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. In addition, we explore the driving forces behind the current situation in these countries. Although these countries have significant level of privatisation, they have several differences in terms of the participation of the public sector and how market shares are divided between, for example, for-profit companies and non-profit organisations. These differences are discussed as a result of the historical positions, for example, of non-profit organisations as well as differences in the way the countries adapted New Public Management and procurement regulations.

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  • Therapeutic content in Swedish residential care for children and youth - managers choices and the reasoning behind: [Terapeutiskt innehåll i institutionsvård för barn och unga – föreståndares val och resonemangen bakom]

    2021. Marie Sallnäs, Emelie Shanks. European Journal of Social Work

    Article

    The field of residential care for children and youth in Sweden is fragmented; there is a diversity both in terms of ownership and in terms of therapeutic content. This article analyses how decisions regarding therapeutic content are made in residential care settings. The data consists of interviews with representatives of different types of residential care organisations. The results indicate that the field is impacted by different logics as well as multiple actors and environmental elements shaping the prerequisites for decisions about therapeutic content. Local managers have substantial discretion in deciding which models and treatments that should be used in their settings and they can in that capacity be viewed as key actors in the field. The decisions of managers are influenced by a mix of professional and market logics, but there are also some traces of a family logic. Signs of a professional logic can be discerned in claims about models and treatments viewed as evidence-based and/or locally evaluated, but such claims are also perceived as competitive on the market. A gap between descriptions of models and treatments and actual practice is acknowledged by managers and believed to be fuelled by procurement processes and market considerations.

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  • A Crisis in Swedish Child Welfare? On Risk, Control and Trust

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

    Article

    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.

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  • Privatizing the central core of social work. Exploring the use of agency social workers in the Swedish social services.

    2021. Emelie Shanks, Gina Mejdell Bjerland. Nordic Social Work Research

    Article

    The use of staffing agencies and agency social workers in statutory social work has not been given much attention from scholars, despite the extensive implications it may have for the organizations, employees and clients. By analysing the result of structured telephone interviews with representatives from 102 Swedish municipalities, this article brings some knowledge to this scarcely researched field. The aim is to map the extent of use of agency social workers, to analyse the reasons behind the use, and to identify any potential variation between municipalities and branches of social work. The findings show that the use of agency social workers is common, widespread and surprisingly unrelated to socioeconomic, geographic and demographic characteristics of the municipalities. The most common reasons for hiring agency workers appear to be related to achieving numerical stability of staffing levels, despite vacancies and recruitment difficulties. Although there were few detected differences between municipalities, there were great differences between branches of social work. It was far more common for child welfare units to contract agency social workers compared to social assistance and substance abuse units. Considering the vulnerability of the children that come into contact with the social services and the importance of continuity in these cases, this is a cause for concern. In addition, practically all hired agency social workers were contracted to investigate and assess the clients’ needs, i.e. partaking in the exercise of public authority, which adds legal and professional complexity.

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  • Impression management in the market for residential care for children and youth in Sweden

    2020. Emelie Shanks (et al.). Social Policy & Administration

    Article

    In what has become quite a turbulent quasi‐market for residential care for children and youth, providers now compete for public contracts. To create visibility and attract customers, many providers use marketing activities to project the desired impression of themselves to maintain or strengthen their market position. In this article, we analyse how companies that provide residential care for children manage the impressions they project on their websites and in advertisements. The results reveal that residential care providers use a range of impression management strategies to enhance their organizational image and to respond to potentially damaging or threatening images. The information providers choose to disclose leaves customers—in this case, the social workers responsible for choosing and purchasing care on behalf of clients—with rather limited opportunities to evaluate the quality of care. This is a significant problem considering other, more reliable, sources of information are difficult to access.

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  • Missed opportunities? State licencing on the Swedish residential care market

    2020. David Pålsson, Emelie Shanks. European Journal of Social Work

    Article

    In many countries, residential care is subject to outsourcing and consequently, states are increasingly engaged in controlling activities. A central instrument is licencing; a procedure determining membership to markets. By analysing all formal applications submitted to the Swedish national Inspectorate between the years 2013–2016, the aim of the article is to describe the characteristics and influx of applicants as well as analysing how the inspectorate, conceptualised as a market agency, contributes to shape the residential care market. The findings show that applicants often are not forced to revise their care in conjunction with the licencing procedure, and slightly more than half of the applicants are granted a licence. Large companies are in general more successful than small companies, as are those presenting specialised target groups. The primary focus in licencing appears to be target group descriptions, management and ensuring the absence of methods with repressive elements. Licencing does not, or only to a limited extent, address issues such as schooling and health support, staffing levels, children’s contacts with the birth family, the scientific base of methods and measurement of client outcomes. The discussion focuses on how licencing contributes to the market formation as well as care aspects omitted in the controls.

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  • Supportive practices

    2020. Emelie Shanks, Ylva Spånberger Weitz. Adoption & Fostering 44 (4), 349-362

    Article

    Knowledge regarding the needs of parents whose children are placed in out-of-home care is still limited and studies focusing on interventions targeting this group are scarce. This article explores birth parents' views on their needs and perceptions of support delivered by two different interventions: one offering support to individuals and the other providing a parental group. The methodology comprised a thematic analysis of 14 qualitative interviews. Parents' expressed needs revolved around five issues: participation and influence in the relations with child welfare services; their emotional needs; their social needs; their relationship with their child; and practical and financial arrangements. The results revealed that the two interventions had overlapping as well as specific supportive functions and that these met some of the identified needs. Both programmes provided an opportunity for parents to speak openly about their grief and experiences of stigma and to receive help to cope with it, thus functioning as empowering and stigma-relieving practices that provide emotional support. The intervention that offered individual support contributed to a reduction in parents' feelings of powerlessness when negotiating with child welfare services and functioned as an equalising practice by facilitating participation and influence. The parental group succeeded in reducing parents' social isolation, providing social support and functioning as a normalising practice. However, neither intervention was explicitly perceived as helpful for improving parent-child relationships or practical and financial arrangements. The study highlights how the parents benefitted from receiving different types of support and contributes to knowledge about a group that has been neglected in practice and research.

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  • Stability and change in the field of residential care for children

    2020. Tommy Lundström, Marie Sallnäs, Emelie Shanks. Nordic Social Work Research 10 (1), 39-50

    Article

    The field of residential care for children and youth in Sweden is often termed unstable and turbulent. During recent decades the field has been subject to many changes. In this study, the development and changes in the field of residential care for children and youth in terms of ownership structure and treatment ideas will be analysed. The study is particularly focused on the changes in ownership structure that have taken place during the 2010s. It also analyses changes in treatment ideas, and discusses how these may relate to transformations of ownership structures as well as to dimensions of institutional logics, such as legislation and other types of normative pressure from the environment.

    The result reveals that of the approximately 450 treatment oriented residential care units (excluding homes for refugee children), close to 80 % are today run by private companies and to a growing extent by large for-profit corporations. Parallel – and possibly related – to the changes in ownership structure, the dominant treatment ideas have changed over time. The changes in the field can be summarised as a transformation from small-scale establishments with a family logic, to large-scale establishments with a professional logic, or more specifically from a domination of small family run units with milieu therapy to big business and a focus on evidence based interventions.

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  • Harmful care. To what extent is terminology from medicine and clinical psychology applicable to out‐of‐home care?

    2019. Emelie Shanks (et al.). Child & Family Social Work

    Article

    Research concerning outcomes for children who have been placed in out‐of‐home care has indicated that the care may have unwanted consequences. However, there has been no coherent terminology for differentiating between different types of such unwanted consequences. In this article therefore, we attempt to disentangle different aspects of potentially harmful care for looked after children, as well as to discuss potential pathways to more systematically approach and report adverse events for this group. In this endeavour, we turn to two adjacent disciplines, medicine and psychology, where these issues have received more interest. The applicability of the concepts used in these fields is discussed, and it is concluded that although they provide some help in categorizing different aspects of harmful care, the complexity of out‐of‐home care makes existing models difficult to adopt without adjustments. This has consequences for the possibility of evaluating care in research, as well as for monitoring adverse events in practice. Importantly, the causality will often be unknown. We therefore suggest that it is essential to shed more light on how decisions should be made about when to intervene or not in out‐of‐home care, despite limited information.

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  • Managing social work

    2016. Emelie Shanks (et al.).

    Thesis (Doc)

    The personal social services in Sweden have undergone major changes during recent decades, partly due to the reforms caused by the influence of New Public Management (NPM) and partly due to the trend towards greater specialisation. These changes have had consequences for both social work management and for social work practice. The consequences for practice have gained attention both from research and from the field, but the consequences for managers have rarely been discussed. In this thesis therefore, the attention is directed towards the managers.

    Inspired by a mixed methods approach, this thesis aims to explore the personal social service managers’ perceptions of their organisational conditions and the content of their everyday work, as well as to interpret the managers’ experiences against the background of NPM influence, increasing specialisation and the specific circumstances that come with managing politically governed organisations.

    The results show that the personal social service managers in general were former professionals with extensive social work experience. The managerial work was to a great extent perceived as reactive, entailing constant interruptions and acute situations. The managers experienced a heavy workload that appeared to prevent them from engaging in strategic work and leadership to the extent that they would have liked. Substantial proportions of managers were dissatisfied with their own levels of influence compared to that of politicians and, in general, the managers perceived themselves to have more influence regarding aspects that were operational (such as methods and working procedures) compared to aspects related to organisational structure. Through the managers’ descriptions of their relations with politicians, it was revealed that the roles could be muddled, and that both managers and politicians could have difficulties in distinguishing between politics and administration, or politics and profession.

    Several changes that could be attributed to the influence of NPM were described by the managers. Some changes had consequences for the more technical side of management, e.g. decentralised budget responsibility, increased focus on cost effectiveness and downsizing of support functions. Other changes were more related to the overarching concept of management, which had consequences for the choice of managerial training, the expectations placed on the managers, and to some extent the managers’ own views on what good management should be.

    Despite the many indications of changes that may be attributed to NPM, an important result in this thesis is that NPM does not appear to have permeated social work to the degree that might have been expected. Rather, there are clear indications of a remaining professional identity among managers on all managerial levels, as well a continuing bureau-professional regime within the personal social services.

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  • High job strain among social work managers and its relation to perceived work situation

    2016. Stig Elofsson, Tommy Lundström, Emelie Shanks. European Journal of Social Work 19 (5), 664-678

    Article

    The purpose of this study was to examine how middle managers within the personal social services in Sweden perceived demands, control and support at work. The study group included 402 frontline, second tier and third tier managers who have answered questions concerning their work situation and perceptions of their psychosocial work environment. Based on Karasek's demand–control model, a ‘high strain’ group was defined and analysed further. The results showed that this group experienced less support from immediate superiors, but no correlation could be found between high strain and other forms of support, such as courses on leadership, managerial supervision or networks. Organisational factors, such as municipality size, managerial level, number of subordinates and field of social work, seemed to be of little importance. Comparisons between the ‘high strain’ group and other managers showed that the high strain group spent more hours working with administration, that they to a lesser degree regarded budget responsibility as a way to exercise power in the organisation and that they had a more negative view on their organisation, especially concerning the possibility to influence decisions. They also had less confidence in the way the organisation was governed.

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  • Middle managers in social work

    2015. Emelie Shanks, Tommy Lundström, Stefan Wiklund. British Journal of Social Work 45 (6), 1871-1887

    Article

    With respect to marketisation and managerialism, the changes in the Swedish social services resemble the changes in many other countries. This article analyses how Swedish middle managers within the personal social services reason about professional identity, everyday work and leadership in the context of these changes. The study draws on four focus group interviews with a total of twenty-two managers. The results suggest a persisting social work identity among the managers, although noticeable changes have taken place within the social services. For example, the managers' budgetary and administrative responsibilities have increased, and relations to private companies in the area of residential care place new demands on their managerial skills. The managersseem to find some of the new conditions easier to integrate with their social work identity than others. The resistance to the reforms appear to be less obvious in Sweden than in, for example, the UK. There are a number of possible explanations for this. For example, it may be connected to the relatively mild implementation of marketisation and managerial strategies, a less apparent downsizing of social work and a relative lack of central state bureaucratic control.

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  • Embedded in practice? Swedish social work managers on sources of managerial knowledge

    2014. Emelie Shanks, Tommy Lundström, Åke Bergmark. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance 38 (5), 435-447

    Article

    This study focuses on managers in the personal social services and aims to explore these managers’ qualifications and their views on what sources of knowledge have contributed most to their managerial competence. Findings indicate that most managers have undergone in-service managerial training and that a majority appear to rely on sources of knowledge that could be described as practice oriented for attaining managerial competences. This practice orientation is discussed in relation to the character of the in-service managerial training, the knowledge base of social work, and the lack of postgraduate managerial education offered by the Swedish schools of social work.

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Show all publications by Emelie Shanks at Stockholm University