The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Seeing Adjustment through Different Lenses

Europe is rethinking the welfare state. Faced with high costs, some countries are trying to shift their burdens from government to communities, away from professional services toward volunteerism and self-help.

In some places, however, this effort is colliding with changing immigration policy. As Europeans grow impatient over the separateness of many immigrant communities, governments are placing new emphasis on integration and assimilation.

These sometimes conflicting aims form the backdrop of a new study that examines efforts in the Netherlands to improve social services to immigrant groups. In an article that appears in the March 2015 Social Service Review, Elena Ponzoni, a researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, examines efforts to foster greater cooperation between voluntary organizations and professional agencies that help with child rearing.

These efforts have largely failed, Ponzoni says. In her article, “Reframing Cooperation: Challenges in Overcoming Tensions between Professional Services and Volunteer Organizations Providing Parenting Support in Immigrant Communities,” she shows that even though professionals and volunteers agree they should cooperate more to help immigrant parents, they disagree sharply over what form that cooperation should take. While professional agencies preferred that immigrant parents take part in well-established parenting classes as is the custom in Holland, the volunteer agencies wanted to first create a space where the parents could feel comfortable talking about childrearing issues.

Volunteer organizations have sprung up in immigrant communities to help parents cope with various problems, including child rearing. This help is informal and includes such activities as inviting women for tea and conversation.

Professional services, in contrast, include counseling and parenting classes offered by social workers, usually women, who have an expertise in child rearing. These providers are an established feature of Dutch society.

In interviews, focus groups, and informal contacts, Ponzoni found a striking divergence in how the two groups understood both cooperation and the problem that cooperation was meant to solve. Professional social workers worried about their lack of access to immigrant parents and thought that volunteers in community organizations should do more to steer parents toward professional help.

The volunteers, on the other hand, were trying to create a “shared space” in which parents felt comfortable discussing child-rearing issues. To the volunteers, cooperating with professionals meant inviting them into this shared space. One of the professionals said “in the end what we want is for them to understand how things are done in Holland,” says Ponzoni.

Ponzoni, Elena. “Reframing Cooperation: Challenges in Overcoming Tensions between Professional Services and Volunteer Organizations Providing Parenting Support in Immigrant Communities.” Social Service Review 89 (1): 40-76.