Wednesday, October 27

What are the reasons the child welfare service takes care of the children? We know little about it. Now researchers want to find answers.


The ten county councils make decisions about the care of children. This is what one of the hallways looks like. Alongside the chairman of the board in the middle are a professional (usually a psychologist) and an ordinary board member.

Every year, about a thousand children are estranged from their parents. But very little is known about the reasons for these coercive decisions. Now the researchers will investigate 3,500 cases from the 1990s to the present day.

Last year, the child welfare service took care of 751 new children in Norway. A total of 8144 children were in the care of the child welfare service in 2020.

But little is known about the reasons for the acquisitions of care. Knowledge about children and parents in these cases is also small.

Researchers at the University of Bergen will now create a database on child welfare decisions in Norway for the past 25 years.

– It is worrying that we know so little about the history of care acquisitions. Takeovers are one of the most drastic and intrusive measures of the welfare state. There should be a moral obligation when evaluating its use, says law professor Karl Harald Søvig. Think that it is a crossroads that is not done.

Excited for what they will find

The project kicks off this fall and is led by Professor Camilla Bernt from the Faculty of Law. All decisions from the years 1998, 2008, 2018 and 2021 will be included in the database, 3500 decisions in total. It will give a picture of the development during the 25 years.

– We are excited about what we will find. What are the reasons for the decisions that are made? On what conditions are the parents / child based and how well is the decision justified? Bernt and Søvig ask.

The reasons may be, for example, violence, mental illness, drug addiction, or other conditions. Researchers will investigate whether these have changed over the 25 years.

– We will also be able to see what support measures have been tried, how long the child welfare service has known the family and to what extent the rights of the child are safeguarded.

You will see if psychological tendencies influence decisions.

– I think we will see that trends and trends in the field of psychology will be reflected in the decisions, says Camilla Bernt.

– We can see that certain concepts are repeated, such as the “mentalizing capacity” of parents. What psychology experts have learned in their studies is again an expression of which directions are dominant in psychological research. This will likely affect the county council’s decisions, she believes.

– It is more important than ever to get information about what the child welfare service actually does, says UiB law professor Camilla Bernt.

The researchers are also interested in taking a closer look at the mandate psychology experts receive from county boards. What have the experts been asked to investigate? And how do provincial councils use expert evaluations?

Union and long-term placements

In recent years, Norway has received 11 judgments against him at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). An issue of review in the sentences is that the authorities decide prematurely that the care must be long-term. Very little contact between children and parents is also repeated.

– Therefore, we are especially interested in knowing if the decisions are based on the taking of possession being lasting and if a minimum number of visits is set. Less research that has been done indicates that it happens often, says Søvig.

– Acquisitions are one of the most drastic and intrusive measures of the welfare state, says law professor Karl Harald Søvig from the University of Bergen.

If meetings are organized several times a year, the possibility of bringing children and parents together will be very small.

– Are the cases of EMD the ones that gave impetus to this project?

– I have been interested in the coercive cases in the child welfare service even before the EMD cases against Norway, says Bernt. – This is an important field. But now is a good time to get support to carry out this project. It is more important than ever to get information about what the child welfare service actually does, because unfortunately there is a great mistrust of the child welfare service in some groups.

He points out that it is not suitable for building trust when there is a lack of knowledge about how something is happening.

– Therefore, this research can also help to demystify what is happening in terms of child welfare.


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