Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

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

The ACCEPTABILITY-project examines the population´s values and interpretations of the child´s best interests principle within different societies, as well at the courts justifications of their best interests 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, generating 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 behind 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, providing 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 objective is to examine and compare different populations’ value sentiments regarding the child’s best interests. Furthermore, our goal is to explore how court judgments 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 a different approach towards children, child protection and migration.The project conducts the largest cross-national study to date with respect to the opinions and justifications for the principle of the child’s best interests, with 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 there are critical voices against decisions made in the child’s best interests. However, we lack knowledge on the rationale behind decisions and whether legitimacy problems regarding these decisions exist 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 behind decisions made in the best interests of the child in child protection removal cases; and
  3. the relationship between the opinions of the various populations and the justifications behind decisions.


Project period

  • August 2017 – July 2021


  • Research Council of Norway (FRIHUMSAM)


  • Norway
  • Finland
  • England
  • Germany

Research team

  • Marit Skivenes (PI)
  • Tarja Pösö
  • Karl Harald Søvig
  • Jenny Krutzinna
  • Audun Løvlie
  • Hege Helland
  • Thomas Meysen
  • June Thoburn

Advisory board

  • Laura Kalliomaa-Puha. LL.D in Law, KELA Research, Helsinki/Turku (Finland)
  • Judith Masson, professor of socio-legal studies, University of Bristol (England)
  • Jonathan Dickens, professor of social work, East Anglia University (England)
  • Jill Berrick, professor social policy, UC Berkeley (USA)
  • Katrin Kriz, associate professor, Department of Sociology, Emanuel College, Boston (USA)
  • Sagrario Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, associate prof., Department of Social Work, UNED (Spain)

In conjunction with the Acceptability-project, we have gathered information on:

  1. Legal frame for care order processes of newborn babies in eight European countries
  2. Legal frame for adoption from care proceedings in eight European countries

Click on the link above to go to the overview.

Newborn judgements

To be published.

Adoption judgements

To be published.


To be published.

Interview guides

To be published.

Related appendices will be published at this page.

Coming soon

This project has received funding from the Research Council of Norway under the Independent Projects – Humanities and Social Science program (grant no. 262773).