Child Protection and Human Rights – Making professional judgements

Project Team: Elisabeth Backe-Hansen and Asgeir Falck-Eriksen

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a legal document with global reach and thus has a cosmopolitan imprint. The CRC is the most far-reaching document that explicitly states the rights of children. The convention serves young human beings, the child, and constitute a critical standard that can and should be utilized to analyze nation-state policy and how child protection becomes practiced.

Child protection viewed through a prism of children’s rights, should concern how the rights of children can and should influence and shape decisions that are made in different parts of the child protection system. This involves how assessments are made, decisions about preventive services including children with disabilities, about out-of-home placement, emergency placements, adoption and aftercare. It will be important to discuss whether and how the CRC should lead to different ways of working professionally. Today, we have most prominently seen the influence of the CRC in shaping demands towards the involvement of children in decision-making, but discussions are lacking with regard to further ways in which the CRC can shape decision-making in becoming professional in line with the CRC. In addition, there is a lack of discussion regarding how we balance the interests of different parties in the child protection system, like parents, foster parents and adoptive parents as other primary considerations.

Discussions of the CRC should be relevant for all countries adhering to the rights and principles of the CRC. In modern nation-states, decision-making in child protection services should abide by human rights, i.e. the CRC, and not nation-state policy conflicting with human rights. This implies that human rights can become the anchor from which modern professional judgements in child protection services can be developed and shaped across nation-states. Turned around, human rights effectively become a critical evaluative standard for how child protection is supposed to be practiced professionally.

Child protection is both legally regulated and extremely normative at its core. It needs to be politically driven, from a democratic and constitutional point of view, because it ultimately has to do with the use of coercion within the nation-states. Is a child protection system, or parts of the system, normativity compatible with the normative ethos of human rights?

The book envisage a “top down” and a “bottom up” approach in combination. The former would be a discussion of how human rights and in particular children’s rights can and should influence child protection policy and practice. The latter would be a discussion of how defined areas of child protection, as specified above, can include a human rights approach.

The book’s overarching ambition is to become an academic, but practical, lever for critical discussion and reflection in child protection practices. This should make the book well suited to educational purposes as well as the development of child protection policy and practice. For instance, in Norway, it is claimed that child protection services act in accordance with human rights. If this is the truth, it should also be put to the test. Nobody knows, and as the criticism against Norwegian child protection system abounds from typically Eastern-European countries who also argue that they abide by human rights, it is about time to find out.



The book’s editors are Elisabeth Backe-Hansen and Asgeir Falck-Eriksen both researchers at Velferdsforskningsinstituttet NOVA at Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus.