25 SES 06 A, Children's right to protection from violence
According to the Swedish School Act (SFS, 2010: 800), preschools, as well as other educational providers, have an assignment to work actively to prevent discrimination and harassment. It is every child’s right to be in a school context which is safe and without any form of discrimination or harassment. Every preschool in Sweden have an obligation to make an annual planning in which preventive and remedial work shall be described. According to the School Act, the abusive treatments that are discovered must be reported to the principal without that the action being valued.
Teachers need to be able to identify behavior that can be seen as abusive treatments. It is also necessary to distinguish abusive treatments from other social interactions such as conflicts.
The purpose of this study is to increase the knowledge of how formulated plans to counter abusive treatments can act as a support in preschool practice, and support teacher in making this distinction.
Previous research concerning the area of abusive treatments in preschool is limited. One reason for that may be that preschool children are not seen capable of performing abusive treatments (Kirves & Sananiemi, 2012). Nevertheless, researchers show that this can still happen in preschool (e.g. Camodeca, Caravita & Coppola 2015; Helgeland & Lund, 2016; Kirves & Sananiemi, 2012; Repo & Sajaniemi, 2015; Söderström & Löfdahl, 2017). Another reason for the lack of research may be that the concept is rooted in a school context and is difficult to contextualize in a preschool context (Söderström & Löfdahl, 2017).
The fact that there are conflicts between children is made visible by different researchers, (e.g. Hellman, 2010; Rantala, 2015; Söderström & Löfdahl, 2017). Conflicts can be described in different ways, for example through exclusion (Löfdahl, 2014), but also that children fights and kicks (Hellman, 2010). Research shows that adults position themselves differently in conflict situations between children (e.g., Rantala, 2016; Ribaeus, 2014), which affects what responsibility children receive in the resolution of the conflict. Adults' views of children's conflicts also appear to be influenced by the gender of the children. For example, it is described that boys' lack of self-control, aggressiveness, outgoing behavior and violence has been normalized (Eidevald, 2009; Hellman, 2010).
The results of the study reveal how abusive treatments are defined, described and exemplified in in quite similar ways. Many of the definitions, descriptions and exemplifications consistent with formulations in laws and other government documents.
In most plans, abusive treatments are defined as conduct that violates a child's dignity. In some plans, the term is defined as an abuse or violation of its equivalence. In other plans the definition is linked to an imbalance in relationships or in power relations between individuals. In some plans, abusive treatments are described as an expression of power and repression.
Abusive treatments are described as being both tangible, visible, more or less obvious but also hidden and subtle. It is described that they can be performed both physically (eg. punches, kicks), verbally (e.g. threats, slander, nickname, gibberish), psychosocial (eg. spreading rumors, grimaces) and by text and the image (e.g. chat, sms, mms, drawings, notes).
In several plans, abusive treatments are described as it can affect both children and adults and both children and adults can perform such acts. In most plans it is said that it is the individual who decides whether he or she feels exposed or not, which then determines whether the behavior should be regarded as an abusive treatment or not. However, some plans describe that if adults give children a justified dismissal, it is not abusive treatments even if the child experience it that way.
In order to achieve the aim of the study and answer the research question, annually written plans to counteract abusive treatments has been collected and analysed. The data collection was performed by visiting all the 294 Swedish municipalities' websites. On the website pages that presented preschools the plans were searched for and the first five preschools’ websites were visited. The choice of documents was based on a criterion-based selection with two criteria. The first was that the document would be named Plan for counteract abusive treatments or that the content would be the same. The second criterion was that the document should be valid at the time of data collection (spring 2019). The material, which consists of 89 plans from the same number of Swedish municipalities, have been analyzed with qualitative content analysis (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2007) based on how abusive treatments are defined, described and exemplified. The concepts of abusive treatment and conflicts have guided the initial coding of the plans. The next step of the analysis was to find patterns in the plans following the first step. The next step was to link this to a theoretizarion of juridical- and didactic logic which was a result of the second step. This will be presented further.
The plans define, describe and exemplify abusive treatments based on a juridical logic. However, how this is separated from everyday conflicts is not clear and needs to be further discussed. For example, the plans describe that physical abusive treatments may be that children are fighting. In previous research this can be termed as a conflict (e.g. Hellman, 2010). The boundary between abusive treatments and conflicts is not clear. It is also possible to consider whether the boundary is drawn differently depending on the gender of children. Can the normalizing picture of boys' conflicts (Eidevald, 2009; Hellman, 2010) affect their behaviors to be seen more as conflicts while girls who act in similar ways are seen as abusive treatments? The result also makes it clear that it is the individual's experience that decides whether the behavior should be seen as an abusive treatment or not. This may not be problematic if children can talk about their experience (Söderström & Löfdahl, 2017). However, children, especially young children, in preschool may have more difficulty with verbally conveying their experiences. Monks and Smith (2006) also describe that young children have a more one-dimensional understanding of the concept of bullying which could also may apply to the concept of abusive treatments. If children cannot communicate or understand what is ok to be exposed to, it may be up to the teachers in the preschool to interpret the children's experiences. By not having a clear definition of what should be seen as abusive treatments that can be distinguished from other social interactions in preschool practice such as conflicts, it can be problematic to decide when acts should be reported or not. Writing plans for the work to counteract abusive treatments could be effective, but with a mission that is contextualized in another context can be complex.
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