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Research focus

Copyright: Colourbox

Why study discretion and paternalism?

To better understand the relationship between the public and the state, we need more knowledge about how governmental use of power is justified and how discretionary decisions are made.

Understanding how professionals in different states decide the best interest of a child is essential for understanding the mechanisms of discretion and paternalism. In the area of child protection, the government has the power to intervene, with force, in a citizen’s private life and decide what is in their best interest. These cases are all different; making discretionary reasoning necessary.

Yet we have little knowledge about how this discretionary reasoning is done, and how it is justified. By examining how decisions regarding the child’s best interest are made, the Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism aims to unlock this black hole of discretion in the welfare state.

The government’s delegation of authority to public officials to exercise discretion is critical, as discretionary decision-making may be arbitrary and thus challenge the rule of law and the legitimate use of power. State interventions are often justified with references to the common good, or that certain services or limitations on personal freedom are in the best interests of individuals in a society.

The appropriate role of such paternalistic behavior is central in the political debate about the relationship between the state and its citizens, as well as for many interpersonal relationships; in particular the relationship between parents and their children.

Other research areas at the Centre

  • Child welfare systems
  • The welfare state
  • Children’s rights
  • Public services
  • Court systems
  • Public opinion

Research ambitions

Provide new insights on the dynamics of government power structures and justification of interventions

Improve our understanding of how the line between private and public responsibility of children is drawn

Develop the theory of discretion by moving beyond the conceptual dichotomy of strong—weak discretion

Find solutions to the discretion dilemma by identifying a resolution model that facilitates good judgments