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Christiesgt. 17

Facts about different child welfare systems

In Norway, the responsibilities of the child welfare services have increased over the last twelve years. More children are placed out of their homes and receive services, while more people are employed by the child welfare services. There has also been a steady increase of reform and juridification of the system (Skivenes & Søvig, 2016). In the Norwegian system, provision of service and help, as well as cooperating with the family on a voluntary basis, is key.  The emphasis on services and assistance is also one of the deciding factors in why the age of children in care is higher in Norway, compared to other countries. Early intervention is common, but removing the child will usually not happen until all other measures have been tried (Burns et al, 2016).

The Norwegian child welfare system is regulated by the Child Welfare Act of 1992, the Norwegian Constitution and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, UN). The laws are based on the notion that growing up in your biological family has a value in itself. This notion makes the threshold for child welfare removals high and the threshold for providing services and assistance low.

Who decides care orders?
In Norway, care orders are decided by the County Social Welfare Board; a court-like administrative body. The legal system is based on civil law (Nordic Tradition). The county boards consist of a judge, a child expert and a lay person. Emergency placements are initiated and decided by the child welfare system, but must be approved by the county social welfare board. Read more about decision-making in the county boards here.

When is the child heard?
According to the Child Welfare Act, children have the right to express his or hers views when they are 7 years old or older – or according to their age and maturity. When children reach 15 years old, he or she is considered a full member of the decision-making party. Although the law provides children with the right to participate, studies show they are rearly heard in the Norwegian county social welfare boards. Read more about this here.

Quick child welfare facts about Norway:

Child population 1.12 million (22.4 %, 2014)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 11,405 (10.1), 2013
Child Protection System Orientation Family-service-oriented
Legal System Civil law, Nordic tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 2
Kids Rights Index 2017 2
CRIN, 2016 13

Skivenes, M. & Søvig, K.H. (2016). Norway. Child welfare decision-making in cases of removals of children. In: Burns, K., Pösö, T. & Skivenes, M. (eds). Child Welfare Removals by the State. A Cross-Country Analysis of Child Welfare Systems. Oxford University Press.

Who decides care orders?
In Finland, regional administrative courts play an important role, especially when deciding involuntary care orders. In cases where the care order is voluntary, the decision is made by the child welfare system. In Finland, more than three-quarters of care orders are voluntary.

When is the child heard?
The Finnish Child Welfare Act states that a child’s right to be heard throughout the child protection process depends on whether it’s appropriate for the child’s age and level of development. The Act also states that all children at the age of twelve or older must be given the opportunity to express their views and wishes. The child can also be represented in the decision-making process by a spokesperson. Read more about this here.

Quick child welfare facts about Finland:

Child population 1.07 million (18.5 %, 2012)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 10 365 (9.6), 2012
Child Protection System Orientation Family-service-oriented
Legal System Civil law, Nordic tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 16
Kids Rights Index 10
CRIN 4

Pösö, T. & Huhtanen, R. (2016). Removals of children in Finland, a mix of voluntary and involuntary decisions. In: Burns, K., Pösö, T. & Skivenes, M. (eds). Child Welfare Removals by the State. A Cross-Country Analysis of Child Welfare Systems. Oxford University Press.

In almost all rankings on children’s rights and well-being, the US scores poorly. In UNICEF’s ranking of children’s well-being in rich countries, the US was ranked 26 out of 29 OECD-states (2013). The US child protection system is embedded within a liberal welfare regime and primarily focused on intervening to protect children – targeting those most at risk. The threshold for intervention is comparatively high. The principles guiding child protection services in the US are the child’s safety, permanency, and well-being with the goal of meeting the “best interest of the child”. This underscores that children must be protected against abuse and neglect.

The US is a federal system, meaning there is large variation in the implementation of federal child protection policy across the country. There is no centralized or national child protection, only federally mandated regulations and minimum standards. States thus show different trends regarding the number of children in out-of-home care. The decision-making agencies, bodies and courts are organized differently across states. Read more about the decision-making processes here: and here.

Quick child welfare facts about the United States:

Child population 74 million (21 %, 2012)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 398 482 (5.4), 2013
Child Protection System Orientation Risk-oriented
Legal System Common law
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 26
Kids Rights Index Not included due to the fact that the US has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US is the only nation to not ratify the convention.
CRIN, 2016 52

Kriz, K., Free, J. & Grant, K.(2016). How children are removed from home in the United States. In: Burns, K., Pösö, T. & Skivenes, M. (eds). Child Welfare Removals by the State. A Cross-Country Analysis of Child Welfare Systems. Oxford University Press.

The German child and family welfare system can be described as a family service oriented system. The system offers a wide array of family support services; from regular day care facilities to special forms of residential care. The system promotes early state action through supportive services while upholding a high barrier for interference with parental rights.

As in Norway, the key assumption is that children are best cared for by their biological parents. If parents neglect their responsibilities and fail to protect their child, their parental rights can be withdrawn and the child can be removed from their parents. The term “care order” does not exist in Germany in a strict sense, although children who are at risk and in need of protection can be removed from their families by the state. To remove a child there are several different legal routes, one of them is the Family court.

The decision-making process involved in the removal of children by child protection services is significantly shaped by the constitutional framework, protecting parental rights against undue state influence. The constitutional framework is based on the assumption that balancing parental rights and children’s rights is not entirely possible, because both rights are so closely intertwined. Nevertheless, the last several years have seen a tendency to lower the threshold for intervention into parental rights, including removals. This is reflected in the numbers below, where 9 per 1000 children are placed out-of-home.

Quick child welfare facts about Germany:

Child population 12.9 million (16 %, 2012)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 118 530 (9), 2012
Child Protection System Orientation Family-service-oriented
Legal System Civil law, German tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 6
Kids Rights Index 18
CRIN 66

Haug, M. &  Höynck, T. (2016). Removing children from their families due to child protection in Germany. In: Burns, K., Pösö, T. & Skivenes, M. (eds). Child Welfare Removals by the State. A Cross-Country Analysis of Child Welfare Systems. Oxford University Press.

Quick child welfare facts about England

Child population 12 million (25 %, 2011)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 68 110 (6), 2013
Child Protection System Orientation Risk-oriented
Legal System Common law
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 16
Kids Rights Index 2017 (UK) 156
CRIN, 2016 (England & Wales) 10

Quick child welfare facts about Ireland:

Child population 1.15 million (25 %, 2011)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 6 332 (5.5), 2012
Child Protection System Orientation Risk-oriented
Legal System Common Law
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 10
Kids Rights Index 41
CRIN 50

Quick child welfare facts about Sweden:

Child population 2 million (20 %, 2013)
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children 15 646 (8.2), 2012
Child Protection System Orientation Family-service-oriented
Legal System Civil law, Nordic tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 5
Kids Rights Index 7
CRIN 55

Quick child welfare facts about Austria:

Child population
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children
Child Protection System Orientation Family-service-oriented
Legal System Civil law, German tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 18
Kids Rights Index 35
CRIN 71

Quick child welfare facts about Spain:

Child population
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children
Child Protection System Orientation Family-service-oriented
Legal System Civil law, French tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 19
Kids Rights Index 5
CRIN 3

Quick child welfare facts about Estonia:

Child population
Children placed out-of-home and per 1000 children
Child Protection System Orientation Risk-oriented
Legal System Civil law, German tradition
Score on UNICEFS Child Well-being rank 23
Kids Rights Index 93
CRIN 28

Sources

Burns et al (2016) Child Welfare Removals by the State: A Cross-country analysis on decision-making systems. Oxford University Press.

Child Rights International Network (CRIN), Global report on access to justice for children.

Skivenes, M. & Sørsdal, L. (in prep). The authority to exercise discretion about the best interests of the child in child protection: An analysis of the child’s best interest principle across nations.

Global rankings on children's rights

UNICEFs Child Well-being ranking in rich countries ranks countries with advanced economy by looking at educational achievement, teenage birth rates, childhood obesity levels, bullying, use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

For more information about the Child well-being ranking, click here.

KidsRights Index ranks how countries adhere to children’s rights by ranking all member states of the United Nations who have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the child, where data is available. This includes almost all countries, except the United States – the only country that has not ratified the convention.

For more information about the KidsRights Index, click here.

Child Rights International Network (CRIN), Global report on access to justice for children. CRIN ranks states by scoring each state against international standards for access to justice for children. The standards are treaties ratified by members of the United Nations, as well as resolutions and guidelines developed by the UN. This involves in large an evaluation of the legal status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in each member state.

For more information about CRIN, click here.