Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

A Tale of Two Cases: Understanding Child Welfare Decisions 

Sometimes child protection services make very different decisions on protecting children, even in seemingly similar situations. But why does this happen? A recent study called “A tale of two cases – investigating reasoning in similar cases with different outcomes” looks into this question across Norway, Estonia, and Finland. Let’s dive into the findings to understand why the care order decisions can be so different! 

The study, done by Barbara Ruiken, a researcher at DIPA, focuses on care order cases involving newborns and their parents in these three countries. A care order is when the child protection services decide that a child needs to live in a safer place because the child’s home situation is not safe or healthy. These cases are really important because they involve decisions that can completely impact families’ lives. The research found that child protection workers look at many factors when deciding if a child should be taken from their parents. They check how well the parents can take care of the child, if there are any risks to the child’s safety, and what is best for the child overall. 

What are the factors that affect the decisions? 

One big finding of the study is the role of something called “discretionary judgment” in these decisions. This means that even when cases look similar, the outcomes can be different because the decision-makers use their personal judgment to make decisions. Things like how well the parents are taking care of the child, if there are risks involved, and if there are support services available play a big role in these decisions. Interestingly, the study showed that in cases where children were not removed from their parent’s care, the decision-makers usually provided more detailed and balanced reasons for their decisions.   

Child protection systems are there to protect children’s rights and well-being. They use care orders, which are decisions to place a child in state care, to make sure kids are safe. But the study found that it can be hard for decision-makers to always make fair and consistent decisions. The way judges interpret and apply the rules can lead to different outcomes, which raises questions about how fair the system is.  

In conclusion, the study gives us a look into how decisions are made in child welfare cases in Norway, Estonia, and Finland. By comparing similar judgments and looking at the reasons behind them, the research shows how important it is for decision-makers to be open and transparent about the decisions they took. Balancing the safety and well-being of children with the rights of parents is a tough job. More research on a wider range of cases could help make these decisions better and more consistent. 

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