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Christiesgt. 17

Discretion and the Child’s Best Interest in Child Protection

The research project “Discretion and the child’s best interest in child protection” aims to unlock the black box of discretionary decision-making in child protection cases by doing a comparative empirical study of how discretionary decisions are made and justified in the best interests of the child. There are huge research gaps in this important area of the welfare state, with a great deal of uncertainty concerning how, when and why discretionary decisions about the child’s best interests differ between decision- makers, both within and between different child protection systems.

The main objectives for this project are to reveal the mechanisms for exercising discretion, and to improve the understanding of the principle of the child’s best interests. These objectives will be reached by systematically examining the role of institutional, organizational and individual factors, including regulations of best interest principles; professions involved; types of court; types of child protection system; demographic factors and individual values; and the populations’ view on children and paternalism. DISCRETION employs an innovative methodological approach, with multilevel and cross-country studies. By conducting randomized survey experiments with both decision-makers in the system and the general population, it will generate unique data on the possible causal mechanisms explaining differences in discretionary decisions.

The project will, by conducting the largest cross-national study on decision-making in child protection to date, raise our understanding of international differences in child protection to a new level.

The outcomes of DISCRETION are important because societies are at a crossroad when it comes to how children are treated and how their rights are respected, creating tensions in the traditional relationship between the family and the state. DISCRETION will move beyond the field of child protection and provide important insight into the exercise of discretion in all areas where public interest as well as national interest must be interpreted.

Principal investigator is professor Marit Skivenes. Skivenes was awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant for the DISCRETION project. The ERC Consolidator Grant is designed to support excellent Principal Investigators (PIs) in consolidating their independent research team and program. Principal Investigators must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition, and feasibility of their scientific proposal. The ERC’s frontier research grants operate on a ‘bottom-up’ basis without predetermined priorities. In particular, they encourage proposals of an interdisciplinary nature, crossing boundaries between different fields of research, pioneering proposals addressing new and emerging fields of research, or proposals introducing unconventional, innovative approaches and scientific inventions.

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For questions about the project, please contact coordinator Amy McEwan-Strand.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council  (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 724460)