Social Protection Of Urban Single Parent Family
Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
The article is based upon the theory of citizenship, which is employed for studying
the status of single mothers as clients at welfare agency as opposed towards their
status of citizens. The authors focus on the theoretical considerations of citizenship
in different traditions of social thought. In addition to seeing single parents as
a beneficiary of welfare state, they recognize this group as a product and a subject
of the public policies in a way that one parent families both are effected by and
influence the development of state ideology, welfare programs and institutions. Being
in an epicenter of public discourse, single parents and their children are often
depicted as victims or causes of problems in the society, which stigmatizes them.
The authors demonstrate the conflicting discourses as different ways of handling
the tasks of helping single parents in the society. The following discourses and
dimensions of the problem of single parents’ lives are considered: economic,
legal, “life strategies”, and moral. Poverty is discussed as a social
problem as constituted by the state policy, social workers and the clients. The authors
give special attention to contradictions in handling poverty issue by these parties,
and to illustrate this, the “naïve theories” and “primitive
classifications” of clients created by social workers are considered.
As a result of demographical changes and modification in patterns of marriage and
reproductive behavior, single parenthood becomes a widely spread form of a Russian
family. An existing system of social policy, including new programs of targeted assistance,
promotes a construction of stable groups among the citizens of Russian state –
clients of a system of social services. Every citizen, realizing the conditions of
social citizenship as a special contract between the individual and the state, has
the right to a range of guarantees of his/her own status, including the right to
benefits, pensions, to accessible and quality services. Thus, in some periods of
life cycle and in special circumstances an individual is becoming a client, or uses
the services of health care, social welfare, education and employment systems. At
the same time, a status of a citizen should not be reduced just to a set of social
rights, as well as a citizen cannot be limited in his/her life by the role of a client.
The research of interrelationships between the unpaid domestic labor, gender and
citizenship has highlighted an important question whether or not (and to which degree)
home caring work of women is valued by the society. Families of single mothers experience
the impact of the definitions of social citizenship that are accepted by the state
Comparative analysis shows big differences in policies towards single parents in
different countries [Luniakova 1998]. There is an understanding of “women-friendly
state” [Hernes 1987], as such a state, which is characterized by highly developed
services including public caring work. From the viewpoint of J. Bussmaker, caring
work is important not only in terms of distribution of rights and responsibilities,
but also in terms of quality of life and realization of the interests of a person.
In order to understand the position of single mothers in the society the ideas of
strong and weak breadwinner models are useful. Those indicators are related to specific
models of family with male breadwinner, that are characteristic for different countries.
The positions of single mothers in these countries also differ, that reflects variations
in the level of well-being [Hobson, 1994].
A range and nature of social benefits provided to a family by the state because of
the baby born and brought up is an important component of social citizenship. The
Soviet family model is close in ideology to a Scandinavian “weak breadwinner”
model by many parameters except for the size of social support. The Soviet state,
trying to realize a gender contract of “working mother”, was not able
to compensate the second economic actor in a mother-headed household that was built
on a dual income economy and faced enormous hardships.
The data show that the phenomenon of mother-headed families and the state social
policy are interrelated and have mutual effect on each other. Realization of their
rights by single mothers as citizens depends on the degree of friendliness of the
state towards the women. This includes a widely developed network of public services,
child care and possibilities of paid work for women. Besides, for women it is important
to have a choice between her work in the household and public services.
During the transition period there was an increase in number of children of single
parent households because of instability of marriages, out-of-wedlock births and
high level of immature deaths. A decrease in value of child benefits and alimony
support, shortening of employment possibilities and real wages – all these
factors affect negatively the family income of single parents.
The growing level of poverty among single parents in Russia along with the additional
indicators of decreasing quality of life in their families proves the necessity of
immediate tackling of this problem at the political level, including the increase
of the value of child allowance for single parents, widening the range of free of
charge services in child care and school education, training, leisure and sport.
At the same time, targeted assistance will not solve all the problems of single parents.
It is necessary to increase the chances of single mothers in employment, training
and retraining, to realize the guarantees of non-discrimination concerning the recruitment
Discursive space of the research and policy debates of one parent families in Russia
is constructed along the axes of “well-being” and “child’s
upbringing”. The works devoted to financial state of such families are written
from value-free perspective, while publications about the upbringing contain moralization,
shaming and blaming, which obviously contributes to stigmatization of single mothers
and their children.
The discourses on single mothers in different research areas have impact on political
agenda. Today there are many new serious works about the position of such families
in the society, about the rights of single mothers, there is critical analysis conducted
in relation to the state social policy. However, the rhetoric of official documents
about the position of family and children is in many respects based upon the idea
of normality of a nuclear family unit. Academic texts on the “incomplete families”,
devoted to the relation children’s well-being and family structure, are stressing
“asocial” characteristics of child rearing, to a great deal are overwhelmed
by the moral statements about multiple risks that children and the whole society
are expecting because of the growing number of single parents. Such a discourse emphasizes
the role of single parents in transmitting poverty through generations. The moral
arguments contribute to stigmatization of single parents by stressing economical
dependency as an inferiority of these families. Such texts are showing single parents
as being guilty in social problems while the real causes of single parenthood and
issues of interrelation of this phenomenon and state social policy are beyond the
interests of the authors.
Academic and political discourses on poverty together with the philosophy of an agency
constitute a context in which social workers create their own understanding of the
client’s life situation and elaborate strategies of dealing with the clients’
problems. This analysis consider practices of social services for single mothers
in the regional centre and a small town using the interviews with women-clients and
social workers. The interviews inform us about how the social worker see her function
and what knowledge, ethical principals and mandate she builds her practice on.
The degree to which social workers take part in a process of positive changes in
lives of solo-mothers and the effect of such participation depends on their professionalism
and philosophy of social service. If status of solo-mothers as clients prevails in
their relations with the state and state services, families of single mothers and
their children are faced with wounding their statuses as citizens.
The misuse and abuse of client-professional relationships both on a side of social
services as organizations or employees and on a side of social service users limit
life chances of individuals and lead them into the vicious cycle of dependency on
welfare system. This dependency, as it is demonstrated, is formed under the conditions
of poor civil society and law effectiveness of professionals, social work agencies,
and the welfare system as a whole. As a result, the deficit of resources necessary
to overcome life difficulties is not fulfilled, and service user becomes a “client”,
with the stigma of “troublesome”, helpless and useless.
The problems of a client might be an outcome of beliefs on traditional gender roles.
Many social problems of women exist as a consequence of traditional family definition,
which supposes inequality and subordination of women; while many models of social
work admit such a definition and, therefore, worsen the condition of women. For instance,
social workers use to interpret complex issues in life situations of single mothers
as their individual psychological peculiarities, have a tendency blaming the victim,
posing on women a responsibility for such problems that have societal origin, and
ignoring important social conditions. Besides, professionals try to solve the problems
of each woman separately instead of having united them with other people with similar
experience, and perhaps, coping with difficulties together, in a group.
A definition of needs of single parent’ family only in material terms is insufficient.
It is necessary to talk about societal attitudes towards this phenomenon, about the
necessity to acknowledge structural causes of single parenthood and poverty, as well
as about humanistic practice of social service, non-discriminatory principles of
professional social work. The society as a whole, in particular, social workers,
teachers and pre-school educators should understand, that single parenthood is not
at all a social pathology and does not mean a crisis of family as a social institution.
It would require proactive and non-discriminatory approach in social service. Single
mothers should not be stigmatized only as clients and bearers exclusively familial
roles and functions, through the prism of domestic chores and other “female”
experience in private domain. In such cases social work, following existing stereotypes,
rules of justification and patterns of behaviour, strengthens unfair social order
of contemporary society.
The research has shown that the role of social service in constructing the statuses
of a client and of a citizen in single mothers is ambiguous. In one situation, social
workers succeed in promoting positive changes in lives of solo-mothers, contributing
to realization of a status of full social citizenship. In another situations, that,
unfortunately, often are in place, social workers, especially in such provinces,
where social service lacks financial and human resources, – the woman’s
identity is cut off to a status of a client. Social services employees make a diagnosis
of “neediness” (in need of help) and require evidences of “maloobespechennost”
(low income), in order to provide a client with limited and cheep in-kind help. Hence,
the practices of social exclusion are reproduced.