Genesis and impact of psychiatric expertise on child placement
This research project examines psychiatric assessments within the context of child placements between 1921 and 1974. Among the central questions raised, we are asking who is considered to be an expert, how an expert’s opinion is formed, what it comprises and what its impact was and is on the life of the person concerned.
Project description (ongoing research project)
This project will critically investigate the role played by psychiatric assessments as regards to the placement of young children and children in their teens in children’s homes and foster families. It will be based on the methodology of a quantitative analysis of approx. 3,500 patient files compiled by the Zurich cantonal child observation wards, Stephansburg (1921–1944) and Brüschhalde (1945–1974), as well as on a qualitative analysis of individual medical and life histories as well as interviews with the persons who were assessed in these institutions. Given that the patient records and assessments were mainly worked out by physicians and thus reflect their perspectives, it is essential that the perspectives of the persons concerned be considered in form of interviews as well as carrying out a source-critical review of the files.
To date, psychiatric assessments within the context of child placements have hardly been investigated in Switzerland. What gave rise to the development of psychiatric practice recommending out-of-home placement as a reasonable option for treatment? Which sectors of the population were particularly prone to get such a treatment? How did the psychiatric assessments impact the internal and external perception of the persons concerned as well as their further life course?
We wish to render visible and illustrate the relationships and networks between the institutions and individuals involved from the fields of psychiatry, welfare, and education as well as the families concerned. The importance of the psychiatric assessments will also be analyzed, i.e. whether they initialized the out-of-home placements or whether they served as a justification thereof. We would also like to determine the concrete impact of the psychiatric assessments on the lives of the persons concerned.
This research project will contribute to the more recent history of psychiatry in Switzerland and to the processing of past injustices committed. We hope that the research results will encourage to create awareness and a more critical approach to psychiatric assessments among experts and law-makers, further enforcing bodies and institutions. The insights will be made available to the larger public as well as to the individuals and families concerned, albeit in an appropriate form.
Genesis and impact of psychiatric expertise on child placement, 1921-1974