Street-Level Bureaucrats as Individual Policymakers: The Relationship between Attitudes and Coping Behavior toward Vulnerable Children and Youth

Siddhartha Baviskar, Søren Winter

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Lipsky (1980) pointed out that street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) are important policymakers due to the discretion they exercise and argued from a structural perspective that these workers manifest relatively similar coping behaviors owing to their shared working conditions, characterized by chronically limited resources and non-voluntary clients. Using data from a national survey of municipal child welfare caseworkers in Denmark, we further develop Lipsky's theory from an agency perspective by focusing on variation in coping among SLBs and examining the extent to which such variation is explained by SLBs’ attitudes towards the target group, the objectives and content of their jobs, and their perceptions of the capacity of their institutions. We find that SLBs’ aversion to and tolerance of the client group, their perceptions of institutional capacity in terms of municipal resources and local political inefficacy, and their conceptual modification of job contents are all related to their use of coping.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Public Management Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)316-353
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • social work and social conditions

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