The Acceptability of Child Protection Interventions: A Cross-Country Analysis

Project Team: Marit Skivenes, David Archard, Asgeir Falch-Eriksen, Siri Hansen Pedersen, Tarja Pösö, Thomas Meysen and June Thoburn.

This project examines the population´s values and interpretations of the child´s best interest’s principle within different societies, as well at the courts justifications of their best interest’s judgments. The principle of the child´s best interests is recognized by all states, but it is a principle that is controversial and contested within and between welfare states. This becomes evident through the media’s comprehensive and daily, coverage of cases involving migrant children and their families seeking residence permit, and controversies around child protection interventions towards migrant families or minority families. For Norway, for example, there has been recurring criticism of the child protection system from other states in the recent years, and just recently with demonstrations worldwide against a child protection intervention, displaying a strong distrust in the system. There are social and political controversies within Europe and within states regarding how to protect and care for the large influx of migrant children.

This project has the potential to enhance our understanding of international differences regarding children´s status and their interests. It includes randomized surveys administered to the general population and thereby generates unique data on the causal mechanisms to explain differences in the perceptions of the child´s best interests. This project is the first comprehensive study on the justifications of decisions and judgements regarding the child´s best interests in child protection cases. As such, it enhances our understanding of the mechanisms of discretionary decision-making, and it provides insight into the factors and values that are considered valid and legitimate within the legal-administrative sphere.

The overarching aim of this project is to expand our understanding of the principle of the child´s best interests and the normative platform for the values underpinning this principle across societies. The main objectives are to examine and compare different populations’ value sentiments regarding the child´s best interests. Furthermore, our goal is to explore how court judgements about best interests in cases concerning migrant and non-migrant children are justified.

Finally, we will investigate the interconnections between population sentiments and court decisions. The study takes place within four societies; each with different approaches to children, child protection and migration. The project conducts the largest cross-national study to date with respect to the opinions on and justifications for the principle of the child´s best interests and has the potential to enhance our understanding of international differences regarding children´s status and their interests.

There are indications that diversity in opinions exists and that there are critical voices to the decisions that are made in the child’s best interests, but we do not know the rationale for the decisions or whether legitimacy problems exist regarding these decisions in the welfare states. Thus, the research objectives for this project are to examine:

  1. the four populations’ values and perceptions of the child’s best interests and determine if there are causal mechanisms that may explain the differences in opinions among individuals and among the four societies studied herein;
  2. the justifications for the decisions made in the best interests of the child in child protection removal cases; and
  3. the relation between the opinions of the various populations and the justifications for the decisions.

This project is funded by the Research Council of Norway.