Social and Emotional Functions of Institutional Touch in the Relational Care of Young Children

Asta Cekaite, Madeleine Wirzén

This study reports results concerning close embodied practices, involving touch, in early childhood care settings in Sweden during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data—video recordings of everyday practices in contexts of childcare—were collected during various phases of the pandemic.

The study demonstrates a broad range of uses of touch, by adults and children themselves in various age groups and for various social purposes. Touch as embodied intimacy was initiated by educators, and by children, both within their peer group and towards educators.

Touch served the purposes of embodied intimacy, emotion regulation, social affiliation, social control, instructions and play. We highlight the detailed ways in which practitioners' actions sustain children's bodily integrity and provide them with embodied agency, participation and learning. Professional touch practices with young children are discussed in the context of ‘no-touch’ views in social work and care work with children.

It is suggested that insights into the social and emotional uses of institutional touch can inform social work practice, especially child and family social work, and residential care.