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Abstract

Child welfare policy is not self implementing; an understanding of child welfare policy must therefore include the decision making practices by those whom Michael Lipsky (1980) has called "streetlevel bureaucrats." This article reports data from a qualitative study exploring perceptions of child welfare professionals about housing-related child welfare decisions. Interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 18 child welfare lawyers, judges, and masters level social workers from a large city in the mid-Atlantic U.S. All agreed that there is insufficient affordable adequate housing. They held conflicting views, however, on: 1) the standard for adequate housing in the absence of a clear legal definition; 2) who should be held responsible for housing that is deemed inadequate; and 3) the consequences of housing conditions for supervised children and their families. Rationales for decision-making stem from contested understandings of responsibility and the role of the state as protector of vulnerable children. These, in turn, appear to be influenced by a combination of individual factors, including personal values, ideology and life experiences; a response in the face of limited resources and conflicting mandates common to street-level bureaucracy; and professional and institutional mandates that are perceived to proscribe behaviors and activities.

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