Unraveling the Hidden Curriculum - Values in Youth Care Interventions and Youth Policy

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Themes such as “effectiveness” and “evidence-based practice” dominate current debates about and within the professional field of youth care. The field seems to focus almost solely on the effectiveness of interventions and policy measures and there appears to be a general consensus on the objectivity and neutrality of interventions, policy measures and of the effectiveness research that follows from it. However, child rearing—including the professional re-education of children— entails more than encouraging desired behavior and correcting inappropriate behavior. It also includes normative ideas about this desired behavior and about issues like “good parenting” and “healthy development”. Although no one would argue that effectiveness issues are a mere detail, the assessment and evaluation of interventions and policy measures on effectiveness only, leaves these normative matters undiscussed. The research presented in this dissertation aims at unraveling this “hidden curriculum” of both youth care interventions and youth policy measures, by analyzing and clarifying the role values may play in this specific professional field. Five case studies have been conducted, each consisting of content analysis of relevant documents (i.e. articles about an intervention, policy reports), and of interviews and observations. The results of these case studies show that values are indeed expressed in youth care interventions and in youth policy measures. In contrast to the claims of objectivity and neutrality, interventions and policy measures convey specific value perspectives. In general protective values, such as security or achievement, are expressed in all of the five case studies. Some interventions combine these protective values with growth-oriented values, for instance self-direction or hedonistic values. Others combine them with values such as conformity, indicating a conservative value perspective. Differences were found between the values expressed in the theory of an intervention and the values expressed in the actual practice of an intervention. This may indicate that personal, professional or institutional values may play a role in executing an intervention. The results also seem to imply that cultural values may have some influence on the execution of an intervention. For youth policy, differences in values are mainly found between the social groups the policy measures intent to target. Overall, the results are indicative of values aimed at socialization and integration of children and families in existing social structures and norms. The results have important implications for the professional field of youth care and the research conducted in it. Differences between values in the theory and in the practice of an intervention imply that it may serve effectiveness research to pay attention to the subject of values: Professionals may struggle with the implicit values of an intervention and may adapt the intervention to better suit the values they believe are important. Likewise, fall out of clients during treatment may be explained by a discrepancy between the implicit values of an intervention and the personal values of parents and children. Moreover, the results of this research may foster a debate about the position of the professional field of youth care and the role they foresee for themselves within society.


Marit Hopman

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