Documenting Children in Alternative Care Services: Transitional Spaces Between ‘Being Spoken for’ and ‘Speaking for Oneself’

  • Elisabetta BiffiEmail author
  • Chiara Carla Montà


In early childhood education and care services, documentation is seen as an instrument for ‘giving children voice’ and for engaging children in their educational process (Formosinho and Pascal 2016; Kroll and Meier 2018; Robertson et al. 2017). At the same time, documentation plays a key role within the decision-making process in which children should be allowed to participate: it is the space where the adults’ decisions are made and shared, whereas within the child protection system, it remains more likely to reflect the adults’ voice (Caldwell et al. 2019). Thus, documentation, especially when in written alphabetic form, illustrates the power of writing and written text (Biffi 2019b). Given that alternative care services are institutional contexts in which the exercise of power and control is inevitable and determined by a given ‘dispositif’ as defined by Michael Foucault (1975), documentation can represent a strategy for giving voice to children or—on the contrary—a strategy for objectivating them, and thus preventing them from authentically engaging with their own care plans. This paper, by drawing on the different meanings held by documentation in ECEC contexts, in terms of viewing it as ‘equipped with agentic power’ (Alasuutari and Kelle 2015) reflects on the meanings of (pedagogical) documentation in alternative care settings, as a transitional space between ‘being spoken for’ and ‘speaking for oneself’, in light of a rights-based and pedagogical framework. A further aim of the paper is to explore possible approaches enabling children to participate in the documentation process, focusing on the practices able to involve children in the writing and reading of documentation concerning themselves.


Pedagogical documentation Participation Alternative care services 


  1. Alasuutari, M., and H. Kelle. 2015. Documentation in childhood. Children & Society 29(3): 169–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Archard, D., and M. Skivenes. 2009. Hearing the child. Child & Family Social Work 14(4): 391–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archard, D., and M. Skivenes. 2010. Deciding best interests: general principles and the cases of Norway and the UK. Journal of Children’s Services 5(4): 43–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arisi, C. 2017. The care of children in data. Evidence, gaps and opportunities for change in the SDGS. SOS Children’s Villages International.Google Scholar
  5. Barnardo’s 2014. Someone to care: Experiences of leaving care. Ilford: London.Google Scholar
  6. Bastianoni, P., and M. Baiamonte 2014. Il progetto educativo nelle comunità per i minori: Cos’ è e come si costruisce. Trento: Edizioni Erickson.Google Scholar
  7. Beckett, C., B. Mckeigue, and H. Taylor 2007. Coming to conclusions: social workers’ perceptions of the decision-making process in care proceedings. Child & Family Social Work 12(1): 54–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bell, M. 2002. Promoting children’s rights through the use of relationship. Child & Family Social Work 7 (1): 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bell, M. 2011. Promoting Children’s Rights in Social Work and Social Care. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  10. Biffi, E. 2019a. Pedagogical documentation as a shared experience of understanding childhood. In Understanding Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood Education. Revealing and Reflecting on High Quality Learning and Teaching, eds. J. Formosinho, and J. Peeters, 67–80. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Biffi, E. 2019b. Pedagogical documentation as ‘agora’: why it may be viewed as a form of citizenship for children, parents, and communities. In Rethinking Play as Pedagogy, eds. S. Alcock, and N. Stobbs, 139–151. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Biffi, E. 2014. Le scritture professionali del lavoro educativo. Milan: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  13. Biffi, E., S. Tedesco, M. Brasca, and C. Montà. 2018. How to prepare professionals for leaving care: a training challenge. In ICERI 2018 Proceedings, eds. L. Gómez Chova, A. López Martínez, and I. Candel Torres, 4649–4653. Seville: IATED Academy.Google Scholar
  14. Caldwell, J., V. McConvey, and M. Collins. 2019. Voice of the child–raising the volume of the voices of children and young people in care. Child Care in Practice 25(1): 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cantwell, N., J. Davidson, S. Elsley, I. Milligan, and N. Quinn. 2012. Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’. UK: Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland.Google Scholar
  16. Cashmore, J. 2002. Promoting the participation of children and young people in care. Child Abuse and Neglect 26(8): 837–847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Council of Europe and SOS Children’s Villages International. 2009. Securing children’s right. A guide for professional working in alternative care. France: Council of Europe.Google Scholar
  18. Council of Europe. 2011. Recommendation CM/Rec (2011)12 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on children’s rights and social services friendly to children and families. Accessed 16 October 2019.
  19. Council of Europe. 2016. The best interest of the child –A dialogue between theory and practice. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.Google Scholar
  20. Edwards, C., L. Gandini, and G. Forman, eds. 2012. The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia approach, advanced reflections (3rd edn). Santa Barbara, CA: Prager.Google Scholar
  21. Ferraris, M. 2014. Documentalità: perché è necessario lasciar tracce. Gius. Rome: Laterza and Figli Spa.Google Scholar
  22. Foster Care Organisation (IFC), Fédération Internationalle de Communautés Educatives (FICE) and SOS Children’s Villages International. 2011. Quality4Children Standards. Accessed 16 October 2019.
  23. Formosinho, J., and C. Pascal. 2016. Assessment and Evaluation for Transformation in Early Childhood. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Foucault, M. 1975. Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison. Paris: Gallimard; (tr. it. Sorvegliare e punire. Nascita della prigione. Torino: Einaudi, 1976).Google Scholar
  25. Freire, P. 1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  26. Gallagher, M., M. Smith, M. Hardy, and H. Wilkinson. 2012. Children and families’ involvement in social work decision making. Children & Society 26(1): 74–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hart, R. A. (1992). Children’s participation: From tokenism to citizenship (No. inness92/6). Florence: UNICEF.Google Scholar
  28. Hart, C. S., and N. Brando. 2018. A capability approach to children’s well‐being, agency and participatory rights in education. European Journal of Education 53(3): 293–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Heimer, M., E. Näsman, and J. Palme. 2018. Vulnerable children’s rights to participation, protection, and provision: The process of defining the problem in Swedish child and family welfare. Child & Family Social Work 23(2): 316–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Horwarth, J., 2010. See the practitioner, see the child: the framework for the assessment of children in need and their families ten years on. British Journal of Social Work 41(6): 1070–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hujo K., and M. Carter. 2019. Transformative Change for Children and Youth in the Context of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Edited by UNICEF Office of Research. Florence: Innocenti.Google Scholar
  32. Kennan, D., B. Brady, and C. Forkan. 2018. Supporting children’s participation in decision-making: A systemic literature review exploring the effectiveness of participatory processes. British Journal of Social Work 48(7): 1985–2002.Google Scholar
  33. Kroll, L.R., and D.R. Meier. 2018. Documentation and Inquiry in the Early Childhood Classroom. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Lansdown, G. 2001. Promoting children’s participation in democratic decision-making (No. innins01/9). Edited by UNICEF Office of Research. Florence: Innocenti.Google Scholar
  35. Lundy, L. 2007. ‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal 33(6): 927–942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miller, A. 1990. For your own good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali. 2018. Linee di Indirizzo per l’accoglienza nei servizi residenziali per minorenni. Accessed 16 October 2016.
  38. Munro, E. 2011. The Munro review of child protection: final report, a child-centred system (Vol. 8062). The Stationery Office. 2019. Accessed: 16 October 2019.
  39. Percy-Smith, B., and N. Thomas. 2010. A Handbook of Children’s Participation: Perspectives from Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Quinn, N., J. Davidson, I. Milligan, S. Elsley, and N. Cantwell. 2017. Moving Forwards: Towards a rights-based paradigm for young people transitioning out of care. International Social Work 60(1): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Robertson, J., A. Fleet, and C. Patterson. 2017. Pedagogical documentation: Where to from here? In Pedagogical Documentation in Early Years Practice: Seeing Through Multiple Perspectives, eds. A. Fleet, C. Patterson, and J. Robertson, 211–217. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Sanders, R., and S. Mace. 2006. Agency policy and the participation of children and young people in the child protection process. Child Abuse Review 15(2): 89–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Smith, M., M. Gallagher, H. Wosu, J. Stewart, V.E. Cree, S. Hunter et al. 2012. Engaging with involuntary service users in social work; findings from a knowledge exchange project. British Journal of Social Work 42(2): 1460–1477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tibollo, A. 2015. Le comunità per minori. Un modello pedagogico: Un modello pedagogico (Vol. 12). Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  45. UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children, World Vision. 2013. A Better Way to Protect ALL Children: The theory and practice of child protection systems. Conference Report, UNICEF.Google Scholar
  46. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 2009. General comment No. 12: The right of the child to be heard. 20 July 2009, CRC/C/GC/12.Google Scholar
  47. UN General Assembly. 1989. Convention on the Rights of the Child. 20 November 1989, United Nations, treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3.Google Scholar
  48. UN General Assembly. 2010. Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children: resolution/adopted by the General Assembly. A/RES/64/142. UN General Assembly.Google Scholar
  49. Vis, S. A., and N. Thomas. 2009. Beyond talking – children’s participation in Norwegian care and protection cases: Ikke bare snakk – barns deltakelse i Norske barnevernssaker. European Journal of Social Work 12(2): 155–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Vis, S.A., A. Strandbu, A. Holtan, and N. Thomas. 2011. Participation and health – a research review of child participation in planning and decision-making. Child & Family Social Work 16(3): 325–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Vis, S. A., A. Holtan, and N. Thomas. 2012. Obstacles for child participation in care and protection cases—why Norwegian social workers find it difficult. Child Abuse Review 21(1): 7–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Winter, K. 2009. Relationships matter: the problems and prospects for social workers’ relationships with young children in care. Child & Family Social Work 14(4): 450–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Milan BicoccaMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations