The Norwegian Child Welfare Service is subject to harsh criticism from several actors, and mass media regularly present descriptions of what is alleged to be erroneous and illegitimate interventions. This situation is not limited to Norway - in all western countries the institutions that safeguard children's rights are criticized. Central to the rationale for child welfare interventions is the principle of the best interests of the child, a principle recognized by almost all states. Nevertheless, the principle is controversial and can often conflict with other considerations. We currently see this in European societies where an important issue is how states can protect and take responsibility for the large influx of migrant children. What does the general population think about the child welfare system's responsibility and how to deal with children from other cultures? In this project, we examine the population's values in different countries and their interpretations of the child's best, as well as how the courts legitimize child welfare intervention. One of the interventions that is studied in the project is adoptions from care. Among the preliminary findings is that there is only limited accountability for adoption proceedings in eight European jurisdictions. However, the Norwegian population seems to be positive to adoption as a measure in child welfare. Findings from the project have been published in scientific journals and books, as well as through outreach activities and in the media.
In this project period, ACCEPTABILITY has organized several project meetings and one digital seminar with participation from internal and external project members. The digital seminar held in February 2021 included six drafts of academic articles on the principle of the child's best interest. One of the articles presented, "Adoption in the Best Interest of the Child? Justifying Decisions on Adoption from Care in the Norwegian Supreme Court", is now published. Other articles presented at the seminar included research on children expressing their views in child protection casework, whether appeals make any difference when there are disagreements in family reunification cases, and on expert evidence in care order justifications. The seminar closed with a discussion on what is an acceptable decision.
The project published a book in 2021 titled "Adoption from Care". The book explores how children's rights are practiced and weighed against birth and adoptive parents' rights and examines how governments and professionals balance rights when it is decided that children cannot return to parental care. From different socio-political and legal contexts in Europe and the United States, it provides an in-depth analysis of concepts of family, contact, the child's best-interest principle and human rights when children are adopted from care.
PhD candidate on ACCEPTABILITY, Hege Stein Helland, submitted her dissertation titled "Discretion and the Demand for Reasons: Justifications for the Child's Best Interests in Decisions on Adoption from Care in England and Norway" during the summer of 2021. The dissertation asks how judicial and professional decision-makers justify what is considered to be the child's best-interest in adoption from care cases.
Project members also participated at international academic conferences such as the Bergen Exchanges (August 2021) and EuSARF (September 2021).
This 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 randomised surveys administered to the general population and thereby generates 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 of 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, and it provides insight into the factors and values that are considered valid and legitimate within the legal-administrative sphere.