PhD: Why is adoption rarely used in Norwegian child protection, but widely used in the United States?
LawTransform-affiliate Øyvind S. Tefre defend his doctoral thesis titled “Exploring Boundaries of Legitimate State Intervention” for the PhD Degree at the University of Bergen. In the thesis, Tefre examines how adoption as a child protection measure is practiced and legitimized in Norway and the USA.
Adoption is the most intrusive child protection measure the state can use, and is regarded as controversial and complex. On the one hand it represents a final legal breach between the child and the biological family. On the other hand, there is increasing evidence that children who are adopted do better compared to children who grow up in foster care.
Differenced between Norway and the US
The thesis shows that knowledge and research were central to legitimizing adoption legislation in the United States in the mid-90s. The legislature made clear that adoption is the preferred option for placing children who cannot be returned to their biological family. In Norway, the same knowledge became more prominent in politics in the years around 2010, but is at the same time limited by the emphasize on the biological principle.
In the United States, the legislature has given the front line services a clear mandate for when adoption can and should be used. In Norway, the legislature is far less clear in its mandate for the child protection service, which thus receives little help from the legislature in assessing when adoption is in the best interests of the child. The lack of clear guidelines means that Norwegian adoption practices vary considerably.
The committee assessing the dissertation considered the work to be a major contribution to the field of child protection research, and especially noted the mixed-method and comparative approach.
Opponents were Professor Katrin Križ, Department of Sociology, Emmanuel College (US) and Professor Stefan Schnurr, School of Social Work, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. Associate Professor Tor Halvorsen, Department of Administration and Organization Theory, the University of Bergen, chaired the Committee.
The doctoral work has been carried out at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, the Department of Welfare and Participation, and at the Center for Research on Discretion and Paternalism at the University of Bergen. The supervisor was Professor Marit Skivenes.
Articles included in the thesis:
- Tefre, Ø. (2020). The Child’s Best Interests and the Politics of Adoptions from Care in Norway. The International Journal of Children’s Rights.
- Tefre, Ø. (2016). Maternal Intellectual Disability and Infant Neglect: Child Welfare Risk Assessments in Norway, England and California, USA. The British Journal of Social Work.
- Tefre, Ø. (2014). The justifications for terminating parental rights and adoption in the United States. Children and Youth Services Review.
- Skivenes, M. & Tefre, Ø. (2012). Adoption in the child welfare system – A cross-country analysis of child welfare workers’ recommendations for or against adoption. Children and Youth Services Review.