Swiss and U.S. Comparisons of Family Policy

Mary Collins, professor at Boston University School of Social Work, reports from her visit at the ZHAW School of Social Work in Zurich.

I was very pleased to spend a week in Zurich and have the opportunity to meet with such excellent social work colleagues at ZHAW. In the past, we have had faculty from ZHAW visit us at Boston University School of Social Work. I had previously met Franziska Widmer in her visits to Boston and she graciously invited me to ZHAW and hosted me during this visit. In addition to the many scholars at ZHAW (particularly in the Institute of Childhood, Youth, and Family and the Institute of Management and Social Policy), I had the opportunity to lecture in Franziska’s class, and to visit two social services agencies serving the needs of vulnerable children and families.

In Franziska’s class, I provided a brief overview of some major family policies in the U.S. related to poverty, family leave, child care, and child protection. This offered the students an opportunity to reflect on the comparison with Switzerland and consider potential reasons for different approaches to family policy that may stem from history, culture, and politics. I was delighted to meet these excellent and engaged social work students.

The two agencies I visited were «Pflege und Adoptivkinder Schweiz (PACH)» and «Rötel». The staff at each of these programs was very helpful in explaining the interesting work they did with children, youth, and families. There are similarities with work we do in the U.S. but some different emphases. For example, I learned that residential care of children is more common in Switzerland than I had expected. I also learned that there can be many differences across cantons in their approaches to assisting families. That is similar to the U.S. where we see remarkable variation across the states.
It was also worthwhile to engage in several conversations with multiple faculty, researchers, and staff members as we discussed such issues as supports for children and families, factors that have influenced policy development in these areas, current research projects, and the impact of our respective countries’ unique contexts’ on various approaches. I appreciated everyone’s efforts to speak English with me, as «meine Deutsch ist nicht so gut» 😊 . I look forward to continuing collaborations with colleagues at ZHAW, I hope to be back to Zurich soon and I welcome colleagues to visit Boston University whenever possible.

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