The (ab)sense of a concept of social support in parenting research: a social work perspective



Social support, as a complex, dynamic and multidimensional concept, has been studied extensively. However, a review of research publications on social support and parenting reveals that social work perspectives on social support are underdeveloped in the Social Sciences Citation Index. Social support is predominantly studied in relation to parental health, considering social support as a buffer against potential negative outcomes for children. This, in turn, legitimates extensive research on parents ‘at risk’. Specific target groups have been questioned abundantly using social support measures, mainly consisting of self-reports. We conclude that social support is studied as a predefined concept, lacking conceptualizations that encompass the actual enacted support in relation to the perspectives of both givers and receivers of support. Moreover, the focus on targeted groups ignores the experience of social support in more diverse populations in general services and in everyday life. Issues of reciprocity, diversity and multivocality are central to our appeal for social work perspectives truly encompassing the relational aspect of social support. The question whether, and to what extent, social workers (including practitioners, policy-makers and researchers) should give attention to this relational aspect is discussed.