Contemporary history of Europe

Children, welfare, borders

Children, welfare, borders

Image taken from Sociobord trailer, available at

The Presbytery of the Robert Schuman house hosted a one-day workshop about children, welfare, and borders, bringing together scholars from across Europe to collaborate on a special issue edited by Prof. Machteld Venken (C²DH) and Dr. Dominika Gruziel (EUI).

The interdisciplinary issue will analyse children's welfare-related topics in relation to borders from various analytical perspectives, encompassing different historical moments and geographical contexts. The draft articles complicate the understanding of borders, children, and welfare provisions by illustrating how they interrelate in context-specific situations.

Dr. Benoit Vaillot (University of Luxembourg) adopts a bottom-up and transnational perspective to investigate the national struggle for the children of Alsace-Lorraine after 1871 and focuses on the welfare and social care initiatives for these children. His draft article articulates the national struggle for children in the French-German borderlands. In doing so, he demonstrates how the borderlands became a laboratory for the development of innovative welfare policies on a transnational scale. This approach contributes to rethinking the development of childcare from a local and transnational perspective, rather than from a state-centered angle of analysis.

Prof. Machteld Venken (University of Luxembourg) adopts a comparative approach to analyse the participation of children from the Belgian-German borderlands to summer camps at the Baltic and North Sea during the 1920s-1930s. The draft article centralises the discourses and interactions of historical actors to compose a borderland mixed economy of child welfare. Her contribution shows how ideas about the nation were renewed and consolidated through moral and bodily welfare interventions on borderland children.

Prof. Laura Lee Downs (European University Institute) analyses the northeastern Adriatic borderlands between 1919 and 1940 to address different shifts (regime, recipient, and geographical) that occurred in the region. The contribution demonstrates the discretionary ways social care was given, revealing the power and politics behind welfare provisions. It further shows processes of Italianisation through changing social practices. Her draft article ultimately reveals a new understanding of social politics in relation to state politics and the politics of state-building from a borderland perspective.

Dr. Federica Moretti (European University Institute) proposes a transnational history of welfare ideas and practices in the intermediate space of Luxembourg by retracing the history of the Children’s Castle (Kannerschlass) (1949-1990s), an innovative pedagogical institution for children in distress based in a Luxembourgish village close to the French state border. Her contribution ponders on the construction of a national youth within the borderlands enabled by transnational influences. It further articulates debordering processes of a newborn Europe through solidarity practices for children.

Dr. Dominika Gruziel (European University Institute) elaborates on boundary making and bordering practices in social provision for children in the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands after the Second World War. She examines how municipalities, state agencies, and private actors maneuvered between fulfilling the directives of the central state and meeting the specific needs of borderland minors. Her draft article analyses the creation of different categories of children, radical bordering practices, and subsequent exclusion from or inclusion in welfare provisions following the shift of Polish state borders in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The remaining essays have a contemporary focus on children-related practices within the borderlands. Prof. Sabine Böllig (University of Trier) analyses current infrastructures of childcare in the so-called Greater Region Saar-Lor-Lux. She focuses on families as cross-border welfare producers in the field of early education and care (ECEC), bringing particular attention to the welfare transformations from below occurring on both sides of the German-Luxembourgish border and its development towards what she calls a 'borderland mixed economy of ECEC.’ Her draft article shows that parents act as triggers of welfare transformations in border regions. In addition, she elaborates three categories of kindergartens, depending on their relationship with the state border: national, border-related, and pragmatic great-regional.

The EU-Interreg project provides the ground for Prof. Christian Schröder’s (University of Applied Sciences in Saarbrücken) contribution. He investigates cross-border social protection to develop borderland policies informed by children's rights. Based on case studies from throughout the Greater Region, the draft article demonstrates how state institutions, associations, and families construct and address state borders in mixed economies of child protection.

Dr. Bettina Diwersy (University of Trier) and Prof. Stefan Köngeter (Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences) uncover and systematise new patterns of professional practice, such as special professional structuring and translation services, and transfer them into practical considerations for optimising transnational child protection. The comparative perspective adopted for the analysis shows different solutions within one state and in relation to state borders. Their draft article reveals that a state border is a relatable yet undefined concept, a characteristic that enables actors involved in the provision of childcare to collaborate.

The workshop closed with a city walk on the trails of the old Luxembourg city’s orphanages. Magali de Rocco (ances, Association Nationale des Communautés Éducatives et Sociales du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg) walked us through some of the most important historic buildings that have housed institutions for children and young people over the past centuries. The tour gave insights into the daily lives and living conditions of children in distress and showed the historical evolution of social aid measures in Luxembourg city.