Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Citizens prefer permanency for children in public care

NEW ARTICLE: In the largest study to date of citizens views on the situation for children growing up in long term public care, display that adoption from care is clearly favored. The article by Professor Marit Skivenes (UiB) and Professor Emeritus Rami Benbenishty (Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University) is published in Child & Family Social Work.

This study broadens the knowledge base on citizen’s opinions on protection of children’s rights with representative data from eight European countries (Austria, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Spain) and California (USA).

– The study is important because it provides valuable knowledge about public care for children that for various reasons cannot be reunified with their parents, says Skivenes.

Typically, children in public care live in foster homes, and a substantial portion of the children live in foster home for a long period of time. An alternative for some children is adoption. While securing permanence, adoption from care is controversial because it involves irreversibly terminating parent-child bonds.

Three out of four would recommend adoption

The study presented participants with a fictional case about a young boy whose parents are unable to offer adequate care, living in a foster home, and it was clear a reunification was not possible. The alternative laid out and explained for the respondents were either continued foster home or adoption. Participants were asked whether they would suggest adoption or foster care for the child in this situation.

A clear majority of those asked were in favor of adoption, despite some between-country variations. While 85.5% of the participants in England recommended adoption, 62.7% of the Norwegian respondents did the same.

– This is a finding that also corresponds with previous population studies on placement options. Yet, it is also a finding that makes us raise the question of whether there is an asymmetry between child protection practice and societal values, comments Skivenes.

Some countries, such as Norway and Finland, hardly use adoption from care, while others, such as England and USA, use adoption from care as one way to secure children permanency.

– We expected that child rights-oriented systems would have citizens preferring adoption because this measure would best secure children’s right to permanence. Yet, California (USA), England and Estonia – all of which are child-maltreatment systems – seem to have populations preferring adoption. However, this could be explained by the countries’ practice rather than their system, argues Skivenes.

Societal norms and values are of importance for the legitimacy of a system and its practice. Given the European Court of Human Rights’ position on securing permanency for children, the findings of this article make it relevant to discuss this standpoint as it may both contradict the Convention on the Rights of the Child and what seems to be the prevailing public opinion across member states.

The article is open access and can be found here.

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