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PhD - In the spotlight

Helen Bouma
Helen Bouma

Helen Bouma
My name is Helen Bouma and I am a PhD student at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, University of Groningen. My PhD study is part of the research project Hestia (www.projecthestia.com). Hestia is an international study: it investigates and compares the child protection policy and practice of England, Germany, and the Netherlands. We investigate child protection on the policy level as well as on the case level. The Hestia team started with a policy analysis. To understand how these policies are translated into practice and how the child protection system really works, we are investigating case files of reports of child maltreatment at the moment. The last part of the Hestia project includes interviews with parents to get knowledge about their experiences with the child protection system. From the very beginning, I was very excited about this project, but in my opinion one piece was missing: the voice and experiences of the children. I convinced my supervisors to try to get extra time and funding for this. So we wrote a proposal and got a grant from Pro Juventute. This study, called Hebe after the Greek goddess of youth, explores the experiences of children with the child protection system. But this project goes further: children and young adults will be involved as co-researchers and methods to involve children in scientific research will be studied.

-  What do you research?
My PhD focuses on the participation of parents and children in the child protection system and their experiences with this. I study their participation in decision-making after a report of child maltreatment as well as their view on this process. To get insight in the participation and experiences of parents and children, I started with an analysis of the Dutch child protection policy on the concept of participation of parents and children. This policy analysis provides knowledge about the guidelines for involving parents and children in child protection cases. While this policy analysis only gives insight in the guidelines and plans for involving parents and children, I am analysing case files of reports of child maltreatment: I go into the real cases to see how professionals tried to involve parents and children in the decision-making process in child protection investigations. And finally, parents and children get a voice in my PhD study. In these interviews, parents and children are seen as the experts and their experiences are valuable knowledge for the scientific world as well as for child protection policy and practice.

-  Does your research have an interdisciplinary character? If yes, how would you describe it?
I am conducting my PhD in an international and interdisciplinary team. This research project investigates the child protection system of three countries and among the team members of these countries five different nationalities are involved: German, British, Belgian, Spanish and Dutch. This international character of our team brings us many benefits. One of the most important benefits for me is that the cultural differences and different backgrounds make you aware of your own background; you learn about your own concepts which previously seemed to be obvious. I really like it to learn about the other countries and to reflect on the Dutch child protection system. Working together with other countries, nationalities and countries makes me more aware and reflective: you become more aware of the cultural nuances which will make you a better asset for working internationally. Furthermore, different disciplines are involved in the research team: my educational background is in Orthopedagogigcs, but also psychologists, sociologists and social workers are involved in this project.

-  In what way has your research societal impact?
With my project, I aim to gain scientific knowledge on the participation and experiences of parents and children and on methods to involve children in scientific research. Furthermore, I would like to contribute to the development of the Dutch child protection system, to improve this in line with the needs of parents and children. We could learn from the experiences and advices of parents and children and communicate this to policy makers and practitioners. At last, a very important aspect for me in this project is to give parents and children a voice and to include them as experts in scientific research and policy and practice evaluations.

-  Do you aspire a career in science?
I really enjoy this research project; I have the feeling that this PhD trajectory provides me the opportunity to develop my own vision and to investigate my interests and strengths for the future. I really like working in an international team, with all different (cultural) backgrounds, which makes me more aware of my own background, my interpretations and ‘our’ Dutch child protection system. I am really interested in the concept child protection in other, not Western European, countries and how contextual characteristics influence what child protection includes in a country or what the priorities are in child protection in different countries and contexts. In the future, I would like to be involved in research on child protection in other countries and contexts to broaden my view and experiences.

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Laatst gewijzigd:29 september 2016 15:33