This study investigates the work processes of racialized child welfare workers within hierarchical institutions and involves an understanding of several day-to-day child welfare activities such as case decisions, work training, court attendance, and work with families, as well as supervisors, co-workers and collaterals. While practicing, workers negotiate the power dimensions within the different and pre-determined work relations involving supervisors, colleagues, collaterals, families and children. The negotiating of power relations is complex and includes experiences of racial tension which are incorporated in the analysis. As the participants were both men and women with some workers being immigrants who had their own personal experiences of poverty, the analysis also recognizes the complexities of both gender and class. Part of the negotiation by the participants relates to addressing the tension that arises when their cultural values conflict with existing policies and laws, as well as institutional hierarchies.
Drawing on Michel Foucault’s ideas of power, knowledge and the subject, this study analyzes the forms and uses of power through systems of differentiation, surveillance and hierarchical structures which provide a unique, relevant and applicable theoretical background to the understanding of race, gender, and class.
The study adopts a qualitative methodology, an approach that allows for an exploration and understanding of the work experiences of racialized workers. The stories of the twenty-one participants involved in this research are significant and profound, and warrant attention. The study concludes that issues of race, gender and class alter perceptions and practice with families and thus calls for the integration of alternative ways of knowing within the dominant child welfare knowledge to better serve families and address experiences of tension by racialized child welfare workers.