Standing up to complexity: Researching moral panics in social work

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Moral panics are central to social work policy and practice. Voluntary agencies and statutory bodies (including governments) create and sustain moral panics in order to raise awareness of, and win support for, their own understandings of social issues and problems. This is not a neutral enterprise; on the contrary, moral panics often have consequences that are negative, whether intended or unintended. Far from leading to greater social justice and a more equal society, they may reinforce stereotypes and lead to fearful, risk-averse practice. This paper discusses one such moral panic in 2013 that centred on the story of ‘Maria’, a Bulgarian Roma child living in Greece. The paper explores the meaning and use of the concept of moral panic before unpacking this case-study example in more detail. We argue that the moral panic over ‘Maria’ has much to tell us about ideas of welfare and protection, institutional racism and children and childhood, as well as the connections between ‘private troubles’ and ‘public issues’. We conclude that social work as a profession must stand up to complexity, and in doing so, be aware of its own role in relation to moral panics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-367
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Issue number3-4
Early online date16 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2016


  • child welfare
  • critical perspectives
  • human rights
  • social justice
  • migration
  • immigration
  • race
  • culture
  • sociology
  • social theory


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