Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Literature update

LITERATURE OVERVIEW: See our list of recently published articles of interest.
How articles are selected

  • An overview of articles is collected based on TOC alerts from journals by the publishers: Taylor & Francis, Sage Publications, Cambridge University Press, Oxford Academic.
  • The short list is selected based on an assessment of the articles theoretical, methodological and/or empirical relevance to the projects at the Centre.
  • Please note that the list of articles is not based on a qualitative assessment of the articles scientific contributions or level.
  • Questions: Barbara Ruiken

ILLUSTRATION: Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism / MGalloway, Wikimedia Commons


Toros & Falch-Eriksen: “I do not want to cause additional pain…”

This paper examines the perspectives of child protection workers (CPWs) (n = 106) on the participation of children in child protection practice in Estonia. The findings indicated that child participation was most related to the term “asking a child’s opinion.” On a theoretical level, CPWs considered the asking of a child’s opinion to be significant in child protection practice in order to make decisions in the child’s best interests. In practice, however, asking a child’s opinion was acknowledged to be dependent on the level of development and age of the child, whether there were any custody disputes, and time factors. The reflections of CPWs indicate a protectionist approach regarding child participation because they discussed the issue of children being vulnerable and how encouraging them to participate might be detrimental to their well-being.

  • Karmen Toros & Asgeir Falch-Eriksen (2020): “I do not want to cause additional pain…”–child protection workers’ perspectives on child participation in child protection practice, Journal of Family Social Work, DOI: 10.1080/10522158.2020.1833396


Hanly: Child Abuse and Neglect in Ireland in an International Context

Starting in the early 1990s, reports published over a quarter of a century detailed shocking levels of child abuse and child neglect in Ireland, along with failures by Church and State officials to take effective action. These revelations, supported by international research, made a compelling case for the introduction of some form of mandatory reporting. Yet until 2015, Ireland’s child protection system relied upon the discretion of those who suspected incidents of child abuse. The Children First Act 2015 introduced a new system of mandatory reporting that applies to professionals working in the health, education, childcare and law enforcement fields, a system that became active at the end of 2017. This article reviews the development of the reporting system in Ireland, and analyses the new obligations created by the 2015 Act. The article also analyses some initial figures for 2018, which show a substantial increase in the number of reports of child abuse and neglect made in that year. Additionally, the article argues for the insertion into the new system of some nuance in order that victim autonomy might be better respected.

  • Conor Hanly, The Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect in Ireland in an International Context, International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, Volume 34, Issue 2, August 2020, Pages 145–167, https://doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/ebaa003

De Wilde & Vanobbergen: Foster care complaints 

European societies struggle with the question of how to deal best with, and organize care for, those children who, for various reasons, need to be placed out of their home. In an attempt to protect these children, states organize different forms of care. Under the influence of testimonies of abuse and neglect, the image of residential care has become tainted and the placement of looked‐after children in foster families has become increasingly favoured. This evolution towards a manifest choice for foster care is defended as being more in “the interests of the child.” However, the “best interests of the child” notion is applicable in decisions concerning substitute care in many different ways. During the last decade, the shift towards a child’s perspective away from a family‐preservation perspective is noticeable. We argue in this paper that this focus on children’s needs is at the expense of the rights and identity of the parents. Based on an analysis of 342 complaints concerning foster care reported to the Flemish Office of the Children’s Rights Commissioner, we analysed which “alarming situations” are reported and highlight a number of pressing concerns from the perspective of parents.

  • De Wilde, L, Vanobbergen, B. “Several times I have asked the judge to get my children back”: 10 years of foster care complaints at the Flemish Office of the Children’s Rights Commissioner. Child & Family Social Work. 2020; 25: 725– 732. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12766


Eronen, Korpinen & Pösö: Social Workers as Relational Actors

This article examines what social workers do when preparing the removal of a child into public care in statutory child welfare. The focus is on how social workers describe both their ‘doing’ and themselves in care order preparations. Care order preparations take place at the crossroads of the different needs and rights of children and their parents as well as those arising from professionalism, law and bureaucracy. They involve the use of professional and public power given to social workers. The thematic analysis is based on interviews with Finnish social workers (29) in which they describe a preparatory process. The analysis focuses on the descriptions of ‘doing’ and those of the ‘doer’. Talking, writing and coordinating form an essential part of social work in the descriptions of care order preparations. When describing their work, social workers speak about themselves as relational actors and very little as agents of the statutory, bureaucratic system. This reflects the non-adversial nature of the Finnish child welfare system with its emphasis on consensus as well as the current dominant discourse on what ‘good’ social work in child welfare is. Given the nature of care orders and the restrictions on family life likely to arise as a result of the preparatory process, other approaches to describe ‘doing’ care order preparations could be expected as well.

  • Tuija Eronen, Johanna Korpinen & Tarja Pösö (2020) Social workers as relational actors: descriptions of care order preparations in Finland, Nordic Social Work Research, DOI: 10.1080/2156857X.2020.1811137


Bilson & Bywaters: Born into Care: Evidence of a Failed State

This paper shows that the number of children who entered state care in England before they were a week old was 44% higher than shown by previous research if children ‘voluntarily’ placed in care are included. A series of freedom of information requests show the rapid increase between 2007 and 2017. The difference in rates between local authorities is also rapidly increasing and bigger increases are associated with both levels of deprivation and local authorities whose performance was graded inadequate or needing improvement by the Office for Standards in Education. In 25 local authorities an average of one child in every 100 live births is separated from its parents in the first week in life, with very few ever being reunited. The growth in numbers and proportions of children entering care in the first week of life is a key driver of adoption rates. But far from acting as a form of prevention, with lower proportions of older children entering care, where local authorities undertake very early removal from parents the opposite is true. This points to a possible spiral of failure as a high proportion of parents who have been in care risk losing their children at birth.

Kratky & Schröder‐Abé: A Court File Analysis of Child Protection Cases: What Do Children Say?

Children’s participation in legal proceedings affecting them personally has been gaining importance. So far, a primary research concern has been how children experience their participation in court proceedings. However, little is known about the child’s voice itself: Are children able to clearly express their wishes, and if so, what do they say in child protection cases? In this study, we extracted information about children’s statements from court file data of 220 child protection cases in Germany.

We found 182 children were asked about their wishes. The majority of the statements found came either from reports of the guardians ad litem or from judicial records of the child hearings. Using content analysis, three main aspects of the statements were extracted: wishes concerning main place of residence, wishes about whom to have or not contact with, and children granting decision-making authority to someone else. Children’s main focus was on their parents, but others (e.g., relatives and foster care providers) were also mentioned. Intercoder agreement was substantial. Making sure that child hearings are as informative as possible is in the child’s best interest. Therefore, the categories developed herein might help professionals to ask questions more precisely relevant to the child.

  • Kratky, Nicole, and Schröder‐Abé, Michela. “A Court File Analysis of Child Protection Cases: What Do Children Say?” Child & Family Social Work 25.S1 (2020): 169-77. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12744

Critchley: ‘The Lion’s Den’: Social Workers’ Understandings of Risk to Infants

Recent research has highlighted the increasing trends in newborn and very young children entering child welfare processes and care proceedings in a number of countries. Furthermore, differential responses to risk within young families across different geographical locations and communities in the same child protection system have been found. Safe care arrangements for newborn babies may include placement with kinship carers or with foster carers not previously known to the family. The distinctive needs of the increasing population of infants in the care system are only beginning to be fully recognized. The short- and long-term impact of contested infant removals on birth mothers has been powerfully highlighted, although the impact on fathers remains under-reported. There has been limited research evidence available on how decisions about the care arrangements for newborn babies are reached. In this paper, the author draws on data from an ethnographic study of pre-birth child protection in order to explore how social workers understand and frame risk to infants when assessing families during pregnancy. Data from interviews with practitioners reveal the extent to which their conceptualizations of and anxiety about risks to unborn babies shape plans for the future care of infants.

  • Critchley, Ariane. “‘The Lion’s Den’: Social Workers’ Understandings of Risk to Infants.” Child & Family Social Work (2020): Child & Family Social Work, 2020-07. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12774


Smith et al: Review of Benefits and Risks for Children in Open Adoption Arrangements

Following changes to our country’s child protection legislation in 2015, adoptees in Spain have the possibility of post‐adoption contact with their birth families. This review aims to provide social workers with a resource to guide their decision‐making by evaluating both the benefits and risks associated with open adoption. Of the 26 studies reviewed, 22 reported benefits and 8 discussed risks. Overall, contact with birth families is more commonly associated with positive than with negative outcomes for the adoptee, especially when the adoptive family is capable of communicative openness. The results support current policy on open adoptions, but in line with previous research, we emphasize the need for contact arrangements to be decided on a case‐by‐case basis and to be monitored.

  • Smith, Megan, González‐Pasarín, Lucía, Salas, María D, and Bernedo, Isabel M. “Review of Benefits and Risks for Children in Open Adoption Arrangements.” Child & Family Social Work. 0 (2020): Child & Family Social Work. , 2020, (0). https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12753

Hjern et al: Outcomes in adulthood of adoption after long-term foster care: A sibling study

Prior research has reported a positive impact of adoption on developmental outcomes for children with experience of foster care. To inform decisions about permanent care arrangements, we used Swedish national population registers to create a sibling population consisting of 194 children born 1973–1982 who had been in out-of-home care (OHC) at least 5 years before adolescence but were never adopted (50% boys) and their 177 maternal birth siblings who also had been in OHC at least 5 years before their teens but were adopted before adolescence (52.5% boys). We constructed 14 outcome variables spanning social, educational, and health outcomes in adult age with information from Swedish national registers. Based on multilevel logistic random effects and fixed effects regression models (supplemented with a sensitivity analysis assessing the potential impact of unobserved confounding), results showed that adopted siblings tended to have considerably better outcomes in adult age in educational achievement, income, criminality, disability, and suicidality. Outcomes related to mental health and substance abuse were more similar, but differences pointed in the same direction. Implications for child welfare policy and practice are discussed.

  • Hjern, A., Vinnerljung, B., & Brännström, L. (2019). Outcomes in adulthood of adoption after long-term foster care: A sibling study. Developmental Child Welfare, 1(1), 61–75. https://doi.org/10.1177/2516103218815702


Kuruppu, Jacqueline, et al.: Tipping the scales: factors influencing the decision to report child maltreatment in primary care.

Child maltreatment (CM) is an important public health issue linked to significant physical and mental health complications across the life span. Given the association between CM and health, general practitioners (GPs) and primary care nurses (PNs) are wellplaced to identify and respond to this issue and are mandated to report suspected CM in many jurisdictions. Research has found that primary care doctors and nurses need support when responding to CM. This scoping review sought to answer the following question: What factors influence GPs and PNs decision to report CM when fulfilling their mandatory reporting duty? By exploring these factors, areas where support is needed were pinpointed. A systematic search was run across four databases: Medline (Ovid), PsycINFO, Embase, and CINAHL. Articles that reported on studies conducted in a location that had mandatory reporting legislation specific to CM and had a study population sampled from primary care were included in analysis. Thirty-three articles met the inclusion criteria. This review found that four principal factors influenced the decision to report CM: personal threshold of suspicion of abuse, relationship with the family, faith in the child protection system, and education and discussion. We conclude that improving the support and training to address these four areas may be beneficial for GPs and PNs in responding to CM.

  • Kuruppu, Jacqueline, et al. “Tipping the scales: factors influencing the decision to report child maltreatment in primary care.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse (2020): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1524838020915581

Morgan: ZH v HS & Ors (Application to Revoke Adoption Order): three groups of revocation cases

Presentation of 3 types of revocation of adoption cases from the UK. A revocation is actually a very late appeal or exercise of inherent jurisdiction. Consequence of revocation: return to status quo ante.

1st type: grave procedural mistakes. Do end in revocations, when procedure is so significantly flawed that it undermines the legitimacy of adoption
2nd type: “ill starred” adoption. Does not often lead to revocation.
3rd type: later evidence shows the threshold was wrong (but no procedural defects). Does not often lead to revocation.


Street-Level Bureaucrats and Ethical Conflicts in Service Provision to Sex Workers – Anasti

Social workers and other service providers are the agents that often have initial contact with sex workers, a highly stigmatized population that has a fraught history with the social work profession. In this paper, I use Lipsky’s theory of street-level bureaucracy and show how social workers use professional discretion when working with this population, even as it might conflict with their personal ethics. Specifically, I focus on the dual service technologies of abstinence and harm reduction, and how service providers have negotiated these technologies in their work with sex workers. In regards to these technologies, I focus on how the emotional and moral discourse surrounding sex work has shaped the response of street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) that work with this population. Using qualitative data from interviews with 29 frontline service providers in a midwestern US state, I argue that these frontline workers use interpersonal modes of discretion to understand ethical conflicts in working with sex trade-involved persons, conflicting with both agency and fieldlevel policy. Implications of this project show how frontline service providers negotiate their responsibilities to this population amidst conflicting personal ethics and service technologies.

  • Theresa Anasti (2020) Street-Level Bureaucrats and Ethical Conflicts in Service Provision to Sex Workers, Ethics and Social Welfare, 14:1, 89-104, DOI: 10.1080/17496535.2019.1664608 

Outcomes in Adulthood After Long-Term Foster Care: A Sibling Approach

When a child is removed from their home and placed in foster care, society takes over the responsibility for that child’s well-being and development. Failure to provide a child with a nurturing upbringing may have negative consequences for the child as well as for society. Using Swedish longitudinal registry data for a national cohort sample of siblings, in which some were placed in foster care and others remained in their birth parents’ care, this study asks whether long-term foster care ensures improved life chances. Results from multilevel regression analyses of a wide range of educational, social, and health-related outcomes in mature adult age (16 outcome constructs) support a row of previous studies indicating that traditional long-term foster care does not seem to improve maltreated children’s life chances.

Finding Keys: A Systematic Review of Barriers and Facilitators for Refugee Children’s Disclosure of Their Life Stories

The systematic review presented in this article aims to reveal what supports and hampers refugee children in telling their, often traumatic, life stories. This is important to ensure that migration decisions are based on reliable information about the children’s needs for protection. A systematic review was conducted in academic journals, collecting all available scientific knowledge about the disclosure of life stories by refugee minors in the context of social work, guardianship, foster care, asylum procedures, mental health assessment, and therapeutic settings. The resulting 39 studies were thoroughly reviewed with reference to what factors aided or hampered the refugee children’s disclosure of their life stories. The main barriers to disclosure were feelings of mistrust and self-protection from the side of the child and disrespect from the side of the host community. The facilitators for disclosing life stories were a positive and respectful attitude of the interviewer, taking time to build trust, using nonverbal methods, providing agency to the children, and involving trained interpreters. Social workers, mentors, and guardians should have time to build trust and to help a young refugee in revealing the life story before the minor is heard by the migration authorities. The lack of knowledge on how refugee children can be helped to disclose their experiences is a great concern because the decision in the migration procedure is based on the story the child is able to disclose.

  • van Os, E. C. C. (Carla), Zijlstra, A. E. (Elianne), Knorth, E. J. (Erik), Post, W. J. (Wendy), & Kalverboer, M. E. (Margrite). (2020). Finding Keys: A Systematic Review of Barriers and Facilitators for Refugee Children’s Disclosure of Their Life Stories. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 21(2), 242–260. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838018757748


Moral stances and moral language in reports investigating child protection in Finland

In 2012, an eight-year-old girl was murdered in Finland by her father and her father’s spouse. The death of this girl, who was already known to child protection services and other support organizations, drew attention to problems in Finland’s child protection system and led to the commissioning of several public investigations. Reports on these investigations were published as separate reports in 2013 and 2014.

This study assessed the moral stances on children taken in three reports through a philosophical analysis of the moral language contained in them. The analysis yielded four themes: children’s voice, rights, a good childhood, and vulnerability. The reports included both explicit and implicit moral stances towards children. Because these reports have an impact on child protection practices, their moral stances on children need to be explicitly studied and discussed.

The Cumulative Prevalence of Termination of Parental Rights for U.S. Children, 2000–2016

Recent research has used synthetic cohort life tables to show that having a Child Protective Services investigation, experiencing confirmed maltreatment, and being placed in foster care are more common for American children than would be expected based on daily or annual rates for these events. In this article, we extend this literature by using synthetic cohort life tables and data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System to generate the first cumulative prevalence estimates of termination of parental rights. The results provide support for four conclusions. First, according to the 2016 estimate, 1 in 100 U.S. children will experience the termination of parental rights by age 18. Second, the risk of experiencing this event is highest in the first few years of life. Third, risks are highest for Native American and African American children. Nearly 3.0% of Native American children and around 1.5% of African American children will ever experience this event. Finally, there is dramatic variation across states in the risk of experiencing this event and in racial/ethnic inequality in this risk. Taken together, these findings suggest that parental rights termination, which involves the permanent loss of access to children for parents, is far more common than often thought.

  • Wildeman, Christopher, Frank R Edwards, and Sara Wakefield (2019). “The Cumulative Prevalence of Termination of Parental Rights for U.S. Children, 2000-2016.” Child Maltreatment 25.1 (2019):  https://doi.org/10.1177/1077559519856435

Sibling Child Protective Services Involvement Following a Child Maltreatment Fatality

Each year in the United States, approximately 1,720 children die from a child maltreatment fatality (CMF). Although many of these children are survived by siblings, few studies have examined the child protective service (CPS) involvement of these siblings. Objective: This study examined CPS involvement of children surviving the CMF of a sibling as well as predictors of subsequent CPS reports. Method: Department of Human Services and Child Death Review Board data about children who died from a CMF during 1993–2003 (n ¼ 416) and their siblings in the state of Oklahoma were used to examine CPS involvement and predictors of subsequent CPS reports for surviving siblings. Results: Surviving siblings of a victim of a CMF experienced substantial CPS involvement; 81% of the original victims had siblings who were subsequently reported to CPS (n ¼ 1,840). Original victim and family characteristics that predicted a greater rate of siblings’ subsequent reports to CPS included younger original victim age, greater number of children in the original victim’s home, and more previous reports of the original victim to CPS. Discussion: A large portion of families with a CMF struggle to adequately care for their surviving children. Such families may need additional support after a CMF.

  • Corlis, Mckenna, Amy Damashek, Kate Meister, Hilary Richardson, and Barbara Bonner (2019). “Sibling Child Protective Services Involvement Following a Child Maltreatment Fatality.” Child Maltreatment 25.1 (2019): https://doi.org/10.1177/1077559519848499
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