Stadi-Boys, Crime and Child Protection - Five case studies from six decades

(In Finnish: Stadilaispojat, rikokset ja lastensuojelu. Viisi tapaustutkimusta kuudelta vuosikymmeneltä)

Elina Pekkarinen
The Finnish Youth Research Society - The Finnish Youth Research Network 2010

Societal reactions to norm breaking behavior of children reveal, how we understand childhood,
the relations between generations and communities’ ratio of tolerance. In Finland the children
that repeatedly commit crimes receive social service measures that are based on Child Welfare
Act. In the city of Helsinki (Stadi in Helsinki slang) existed an agency specifically established
for ill-behaving children until the 1980s, after which a unified agency for the maltreated and
maladjusted children was founded. Through five boys’ child welfare cases, this research aims
at defining what kind of positions, social relations and structures are constructed in the social
dynamics of these children’s everyday lives. The cases cover different decades from the 1940s
to the present. At the same time the cases reflect the child welfare and societal practices, and
reveal how the communities have participated in constructing deviance in different eras.

The research is meta-theoretically based on critical realism and specifically on Roy Bhaskar’s
transformative model of social activity. The cases are analyzed in the framework of Edwin M.
Lemert’s societal reaction theory. Thus the focus of the study is on the wide structural context
of the institutional and societal definitions of deviance. The research is methodologically based
on a qualitative multiple case study research. The primary data consist of classified child welfare
case files collected from the archives of the city of Helsinki. The data of the institutional level
consist of the annual reports from 1943 to 2004 and the ordinances from 1907 onwards, and
various committee documents produced in the law-making process of child welfare, youth
and criminal legislation of the 20th century. Empirical findings are interpreted in a dialogue
with previous historical and child welfare research, contemporary literature and studies on the
urban development. The analysis is based on Derek Layder’s model of adaptive theory.

The research forms a viewpoint to the historical study of child welfare, in which the historical
era, its agents and the dynamics of their mutual relations are studied through an individual
level reconstruction based on the societal reaction theory. The case analyses reveal how the
positions of the children form differently in the different eras of child welfare practices. In the
1940s the child is positioned as a psychopath and a criminal type. The measures are aimed at
protecting the community from the disturbed child, and at adjusting the individual by isolation.

From 1960s to 1980s the child is positioned as a child in need of help and support. The
child becomes a victim, a subject that occupies rights, and a target of protection. In the turn
of the millennium a norm breaking child is positioned as a dangerous individual that, in the
name of the community safety, has to be confined. The case analyses also reveal the prevailing
academic and practical paradigms of the time.

Keywords: childhood, youth, child protection, child welfare, delinquency, crime, deviance, history,
critical realism, case study research