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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

The use of Expert Reports as evidence in Child Protection Decision-Making

Alternative title: Sakkyndighetsrapporter til bruk ved barnevernsavgjørelser

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

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Project Period:

2023 - 2027

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Judicial decision-making regarding child protection (CP) is a difficult task with potential severe consequences. Psychological expertise plays an essential role herein. Norway has received criticism from the European Court of Human Rights for its decisions. The reasoning in judgments has been criticized for not demonstrating a fair balance between the interests of parents and children and not being based on a sufficient factual basis, including an updated expert opinion. This project aims to address these concerns by evaluating expert reports as evidence in CP decision-making. We already have ethical approval and access to a unique database, The Expert Commission on Children, and our data reveals that mandates given to experts vary to a great degree and that child interviewing practice among experts is random. An overall goal with this project is to develop uniform procedures for experts’ contributions. We have three working packages: We will 1) compare the use of expert evidence in Norway, Sweden, England and Germany through document studies, 2) develop and test the effectiveness of an App-based interview to support practitioners when interviewing children, and 3) compare Norwegian and Swedish CP decisions to explore how CP boards and courts justify the child’s best interest and the rights of parents, including approaches used in experts’ reports. We are an interdisciplinary team of psychologists and lawyers with competency in clinical, forensic, and developmental psychology, procedural and child protection law. Together with our reference group we aim to solve these questions. The interdisciplinary approach will enable better training of experts and practice among legal decision makers, and it will promote the understanding among next generation students of psychology and law. An important outcome from the project will be to obtain an equal legal practice across expert missions, evidence assessments, and reasoning to the benefit of children and their parents.

Criticism towards the Norwegian CPS practice has been put forward by the ECtHR that criticised Norwegian courts for focusing solely on the child’s rights instead of combining these with the rights of the parents. The criticism also concerned insufficient evidence, including the lack of updated expert reports where the parents’ life situation had changed. Also the Norwegian Government expressed a need to improve the formal framework around expert reports, specifically that the lack of standardized procedures and uniform approaches may affect the legal security of the parties and result in less equal and fair decisions. The variation amongst mandates and the random interviewing practice amongst experts in CPS cases may affect legal decision-making, why it is an urgent need to provide scientific evidence on how expert reports are used in CPS cases, and develop uniformed procedures. We will study how four parties to the ECHR use experts in CPS cases, and examine if standardized mandates affect the Norwegian legal decisions. We will make qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the Norwegian and Swedish judgements to explore how authorities evaluate and justify the child’s best interest and the rights of the parents in CPS proceedings, including what mandates, approach and theoretical foundation the experts apply when providing the Courts with their reports. To secure the opinion of the child in an interview, we will develop a digital approach to assist experts and test the effects of this intervention in a quasi-experimental design. For these purposes we will use a large-scale register data of more than 700 experts´reports per year, compare ad hoc vs. standard mandates in terms of the precision to the CWA of the experts´ evaluations, testing a child friendly App interview, and integrate archive data from the Norwegian and Swedish Courts and Norwegian CWS boards to examine complex pathways of and compare the judicial decision-making process in Norway vs Sweden.

Funding scheme:

VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon