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Wirzén, M. & Lindgren, C. (2020). ‘It shouldn’t just be these kinds of sunshine stories’: social workers’ discussion of ‘past difficulties’ as a key theme in adoption assessment interviews. European Journal of Social Work
Open this publication in new window or tab >>‘It shouldn’t just be these kinds of sunshine stories’: social workers’ discussion of ‘past difficulties’ as a key theme in adoption assessment interviews
2020 (English)In: European Journal of Social Work, ISSN 1369-1457, E-ISSN 1468-2664Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

According to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, the receiving state must determine that prospective parents are suited to adopt, and it is up to each State Party to identify the criteria and methods by which suitability is determined. The present study focuses on social workers’ accounts of the assessment practice, and offers insight into the complexity of the assessment task as well as what is expected and required of adoption applicants. More precisely, it explores why talking about past difficulties and crises is considered to be crucial when assessing prospective adoptive parents. The analysis of social workers’ discussions of their work demonstrates how ‘talking about difficulties’ in assessment interviews serves two primary institutional purposes, as it relates to both the examination of suitability for parenthood and the credibility of the assessment per se. Furthermore, the study points to how social workers’ professional discourse on the significance of past experiences holds and reproduces the ideal of a reflective confessing subject, the hallmark of a therapeutic culture.

Abstract [sv]

Vid internationell adoption är det, enligt Haagkonventionen, mottagarlandets skyldighet att utreda huruvida de som ansöker om att få adoptera är lämpliga som föräldrar. Det är dock upp till varje konventionsstat att bestämma utifrån vilka kriterier, och med vilka metoder, som lämplighet ska bedömas. Denna studie fokuserar på familjerättssekreterares beskrivningar av bedömningspraktiken och bidrar med kunskap om såväl utredningens komplexitet som de krav som ställs på adoptionssökande. Mer specifikt undersöks varför samtal om svårigheter och kriser anses avgörande i bedömning av presumtiva adoptivföräldrars lämplighet. Analysen av familjerättssekreterarnas diskussioner visar hur samtal om svårigheter fyller olika syften och kopplas till både bedömning av lämplighet för föräldraskap och utredningens trovärdighet i sig. Studien belyser hur familjerättssekreterares professionella diskurs om betydelsen av tidigare svårigheter rymmer och reproducerar den terapeutiska kulturens ideal om ett reflekterande och bekännande subjekt.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2020
Adoption, assessment, parenthood, social work practice, therapeutic culture, Adoption, det sociala arbetets praktik, föräldraskap, medgivandeutredning, teraputisk kultur
National Category
Social Work Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-163425 (URN)10.1080/13691457.2019.1709160 (DOI)000509452900001 ()
Förberedelse för föräldraskap. Medgivandeutredningen som institutionell process
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2015-00542

Funding agencies: This work was supported by Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare: [grant number 2015-00542]

Available from: 2020-02-04 Created: 2020-02-04 Last updated: 2020-02-18
Wirzén, M. (2018). Managing delicate issues in assessment interviews of prospective adoptive parents. In: : . Paper presented at 5th International Conference on Conversation Analysis (ICCA).
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Managing delicate issues in assessment interviews of prospective adoptive parents
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Before getting a consent to adopt a child, prospective adoptive parents need to participate in an assessment process that entails extensive interviews by a social worker. Assessment of prospective adoptive parenthood is a complex matter and in absence of an existing child the assessment rather concerns parental potential than performance (Lind & Lindgren 2017). In assessment interviews, therefore, several important topics and delicate issues have to be covered. 


The data for this paper consist of audio recordings of such interviews, that is part of the assessment process preceding intercountry adoption in Sweden. Using institutional conversation analysis (Heritage 2005), I analyse how sensitive or dilemmatic questions concerning delicate issues (Peräkylä 1995, van Nijnatten & Souoinen 2014) are handled – designed and responded to - by social workers and prospective adoptive parents during an assessment interview.


During an assessment interview, by discussing different topics and possible scenarios, the prospective parents’ awareness and knowledge about the challenges of parenting is ought to be assessed. Some of these topics and questions are problematic or sensitive. One of these sensitive areas involves the assessment of the applicants’ willingness or abilities to adopt a child with disabilities. The analysis shows that social workers’ questions about this invokes a moral dimension concerning the possibility to ‘choose’ healthy children instead of disabled ones. Social workers formulate their questions by using hypothetical constructions Sw. ‘om’ “if” and Sw. ‘vad gör du’ “what would you do” to approach the issue, while the applicants treat these questions as dispreferred and tend to avoid straightforward answers.  Instead, the prospective parents categorise the questions as ‘harsh’ or ‘difficult’. Both prospective parents and social workers then produce expanded explanations, and formulate various accounts that explicate their perspectives (e.g., Peräkylä 1995, Noordegraaf 2008; van Nijnatten & Souoinen 2014 on interactional resources used to handle the delicate issues in institutional talk). The present analysis of the interactional organization of such question-answer sequences in assessment interviews highlights how prospective adoptive parents respond to dispreferred questions that are morally sensitive, while formulating their responses so as to establish a social identity of suitable parents.  

National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Social Work
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-163491 (URN)
5th International Conference on Conversation Analysis (ICCA)
Available from: 2020-02-05 Created: 2020-02-05 Last updated: 2020-02-19Bibliographically approved

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