Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Breaking the Silence About Compulsory Social Measures in Switzerland: Consequences for Survivor Families

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Abstract:  So‐called compulsory social measures (CSM) represent a dark chapter in Swiss history. Hundreds of thousands of children and adolescents from families affected by poverty were placed in foster families and homes, or used as labourers on farms. These decisions could hardly be appealed. Many minors suffered traumatic violence in out‐of‐home placements. In 1981 the relevant laws were redrafted and the practice of CSM was officially stopped. Nevertheless, CSM were considered taboo for decades in Swiss politics and society. Often survivors even concealed their experiences from their own partners and children. It was not until 2013 that a major political and social reappraisal began. Against this background, we analyse how the state breaking its silence on the issue, through the initiating of public reappraisal, changed the way families deal with their parents’ history regarding CSM. To this end, six biographical interviews with adult descendants of survivors were analysed using grounded theory methodology. The results show that the public reappraisal triggered processes of revealing secrets from parental history in families, which also enabled emotional rapprochement between family members. However, it also opened up new areas of family tension and found expression in new constellations of silence. Overall Switzerland’s state action had ambivalent consequences for survivor families.

Keywords:  institutional silence; out‐of‐home placement; public reappraisal; qualitative analysis; welfare and coercion



© Nadine Gautschi, Andrea Abraham. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.