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.

Facts

Project period

  • August 2017 – July 2021

Funding

  • Research Council of Norway (FRIHUMSAM)

Countries

  • Norway
  • Finland
  • England
  • Germany

Research team

Affiliates

  • Karl Harald Søvig
  • 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 study the thresholds for intervention, the rationale and justification for a decision about removal of a newborn baby, we have collected all the first instance court judgements from eight countries for one year, and sometimes several years. Below a brief overview of the data material collection from each country is presented.

England
Newborn removals

For England, the empirical data used in the project consists of all publicly available (n=14) newborn removal cases decided in 2015-2017 (published in BAILII, British and Irish Legal Information Institute, database). This does not include care and placement orders, as placement order cases are in effect adoption cases and the court reasoning follows this line. For 2015, 2016 and 2017, there were 455 publicly available cases decided by the Family Courts (first instance). We manually reviewed these cases, and identified 14 cases concerning care order removals of newborns in England that meet our inclusion criteria. We also consulted non-published judgments, but this data collection did not yield any written judgments fitting our criteria for newborn removal cases.

Finland
Newborn removals

For Finland, the empirical data used in the research consists of all judgements (n=25) of newborn removals decided by the Administrative Courts in 2016. For Finland, we requested and received access to all the court decisions from 2016 and 2017 of care orders made under paragraph 40 of the Child Welfare Act (Huostaanotto ja sijaishuoltoon sijoittaminen), aged 2 years or younger at the time of the decision by the administrative courts. We received 129 such cases; from these we have manually identified 53 cases that fit our selection criteria of newborn removals; 25 from 2016 and 28 from 2017. The full sample from 2016 was then selected as the material for analysis.

Germany
Newborn removals

In Germany, the empirical data used in the research consist of all (n=27) newborn removal cases decided between 2015-2017 in one large city. In Germany, we have access to all judgments from the district court in that city, family division (Amtsgericht), concerning removals of newborns. These were identified by a search for care order judgments based on § 1666 BGB (German Civil Code, Kindeswohlgefährdung) where an interim order was made when the child was up to 100 days old and where the main proceedings (Hauptsacheverfahren) were decided between 2015-17 (including decisions made in 2018 where the child concerned was born in the previous year). This yielded a total of 74 cases. From these, we have manually identified the cases that concern newborn removals (n=27).

Norway
Newborn removals

For Norway, we have access to all judgements (n=76) from the county board concerning removals of newborns, i.e. based on the child welfare act section 4-9, (1), cf. section 4-8 (2) (temporary) followed by section 4-8 (2), cf. section 4-12 (care order) in 2016. To make sure we have the full sample, we also did a manual review of all cases filed under section 4-8 and section 4-12 where the child is 12 months or younger. For 2016, this resulted in a total of 76 judgments.  We have ordered them chronologically after decision date, and selected every second judgment. The randomized sample for analysis is 38 judgments.

Adoption judgements

England
Adoptions from care

For England, the empirical data used in the project consists of all publicly available (n=31) placement order cases decided in 2016 (published in BAILII, British and Irish Legal Information Institute, database), as well as N=29 placement order cases collected from two large court areas. Cases were found first by searching BAILII for decisions made by the England and Wales Family Court in 2016. Out of 121 decisions, 31 were identified as placement orders. The second search was done in the court’s registry. From a list of 147 placement order cases, we retrieved 29 written judgments.

Finland
Adoptions from care

For Finland, the empirical data used in the research consists of all judgements (n=13) of adoptions from care decided in 2015 and 2016. These had been identified from an overall sample of 623 domestic adoptions of minors in those two years for a previous Finnish study by Laine et al. (2018). The district courts who had given access to the judgements for that study were contacted to obtain approval to access the same material for the current research. This was granted and the full sample of 13 cases was used as empirical material in this project.

Germany
Adoptions from care

In Germany, the empirical data used in the research consist of all adoption from care cases decided between 2015-18 in one large German state and in a big city in another state (n=29). We have access to all adoption from care decisions via the youth welfare offices, in which parental consent to the adoption was substituted by the court on the basis of sec. 1748 BGB (German Civil Code). These were identified by a search for decisions made under this provision, and in which the child was adopted in the years 2015-18. This yielded a total of 37 cases, eight of which were manually excluded as step-parent adoptions. This resulted in a total sample of 29 cases that concern adoptions from care.

Norway
Adoptions from care

For Norway, we have access to all judgments (n=58) from the county board concerning child protection adoptions, i.e. based on the child welfare act § 4-20. For 2016, it was a total of 58 judgements. For some analyses we only use a randomized sample of 29 judgements, based on ordering the 58 judgements chronologically after decision date, and selecting every second judgement.

Surveys

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).