Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Are Decision-makers in Alignment with the Citizens?

NEW ARTICLE: Interesting differences between the professionals that make decisions about children and families and the population.

Democratic states are built on the foundation that state polices are accountable to and represent the citizens’ will. The extent to which this is the case in child protection, however, is largely unknown.

A new study by Jill Berrick, Jonathan Dickens, Tarja Pösö and Marit Skivenes provides new information about this important question. The authors draw on survey vignette data collected from citizens, child protection staff and judiciary decision makers in four jurisdictions – England, Finland, Norway, and the U.S. (California).

– We identify some interesting differences between the professionals and the general population. The differences are most evident with regards to views on risk for children, intrusive state interventions, and future employment prospects for children, explains Marit Skivenes.

Similarity across countries

The study suggests that the public is more likely than the professionals to label the children’s circumstances as “neglect,” and to support an intrusive state response. The researchers also found that there is a high degree of similarity across countries in the public’s views about children’s need for services.

– The similarity in the public’s views across countries is hinting at normative frames that may be universal about the rights of children, and that vulnerable children’s needs should be protected by the government, states Skivenes.

Expectation of a state response

This positive expectation of child welfare services stands in contrast to media coverage in all of these countries that is often critical of child welfare interventions.

– The public’s concern about children and their expectation of a state response prompts some reflection about the design and funding for a robust child protection system. Citizens seem to expect more of these systems than what they may offer, says Skivenes.

The full article is available via the link below.

Berrick, Dickens, Pösö and Skivenes (2019). Are child protection workers and judges in alignment with citizens when considering interventions into a family? A cross-country study of four jurisdictionsChildren and Youth Service Review.

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