Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Literature update #4 2018

LITERATURE OVERVIEW: See our list of articles of interest from July and August.

Highlight 1

Unaccompanied refugee minors

The ‘Trajectories of ambivalence and trust: experiences of unaccompanied refugee minors resettling in Norway‘ published in  European Journal of Social Work, asses Unaccompanied refugee minors experiences in resettling in Norway.

Nine unaccompanied refugee youth between 15 and 19 were interview over a two-year period during their resettlement in Norway in 2011 and 2012. They were asked to tell about their aspirations and their opportunities to act on them and over all well-being.

The authors argues that they struggled to overcome the tensions of being in-between what they could take for granted in the past and an indeterminate future. The changes the youths described were not initiated by or dependent on social work practice, but they have important implications for such practice. The youths developed capacity to assess trustworthiness of people and institutions, and  they  exerted  more  agency  in  developing  new relationships.

Highlight 2

Constructions of family and parenting in fosterhomes.  

Therèse Wissö, Helena Johansson and Ingrid Höjer from Gothenburg University, investigates the family concept after care order, and interviews 11 foster children and 12 foster parents experienced on construction a family in Sweden.

In their article ‘What is a family? Constructions of family and parenting after a custody transfer from birth parents to foster parents’ published in Child & Family Social Work, they reoprt that that who counts as family and as a parent is ambiguous. This article draws attention to how negotiations about family and parenthood revolve around biological, emotional, and relational dimensions.

Highlight 3

What are parents’ experiences of their contact with the Child Welfare Services?  

The authors Memory J. Tembo and Ingunn Studsrød from the University of Stavanger, investigates this issue by analyzing previous research on how parents experience their contact with child welfare services, and compare findings from Norway, Australia, Canada, the US and The United Kingdom.

Their findings indicate more similarities than differences of parental experience with the child welfare services. Contact with the child welfare service is often stressful, and highly emotional. To various degrees, anger, sadness, fear and anxiety were common responses. Tembo and Studsrøds review indicates that relational and procedural aspects of the process and parents’ perception of help measures in child welfare evoked parents’ emotions. It is also reported some positive experiences.

Read their article ‘Parents’ emotional experiences of their contact with the child welfare services: a synthesis of previous research – a research review’ in Nordic Social Work Research.


How articles are selected

  • A full list of articles are collected based on TOC alerts from journals by the publishers; Taylor & Francis Online, SAGE Journals, Science Direct, Brill Publisher and Idunn.
  • 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.

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

Full list of new publications

Child welfare 


Foster children are at disproportionate risk of adverse outcomes throughout the life course. Public policy prioritizes permanency (exiting foster care through reunification with birth parents, adoption, or legal guardianship) to promote foster youths’ healthy development and well-being, but little empirical evidence indicates that permanency, including its most preferred form—reunification—promotes positive outcomes. Using multi-system, statewide longitudinal administrative data, we employed logistic and mixed-effects regression to examine educational attainment and earnings among former foster youth in early adulthood. We found that youth who aged out of care had significantly higher odds of graduating high school and enrolling in college than did reunified youth and youth who exited to guardianship, and they had similar odds as adopted youth. Earnings were similar across groups. Among aged-out (but not reunified) youth, odds of high school graduation and average earnings were higher for youth who spent more time in foster care prior to age 18. Overall, results suggest that permanency alone is insufficient to promote foster youths’ educational and economic attainment.



Emergency placements in child welfare services have increased during the last 10 years in Norway. At the time of placement, some of these children have been in the child welfare system for several years. Based on qualitative interviews, our study explores Norwegian child welfare workers’ perceptions of long‐term cases resulting in emergency placements. The participants reported that they felt they had intervened too late, as it took them too long to understand the severity of the situation. This occurred mainly due to three factors: (a) The work had mainly been based on the parents’ premises; (b) having too much distance to the child, as they talked too little with the child, too late in the process; (c) an experience of lacking methodological skills needed and sufficient opportunities to conduct proper observations and assessments; (d) supportive measures were tried for too long, and these measures were not properly evaluated. Giving other professionals’ assessments considerable weight in the decision‐making process, and the use of legal language rather than independent, professional assessments, can be seen as another way of distancing themselves from both the family and the decisions being made.



 A number of studies have investigated parents’ experiences with the Child Welfare Services (CWS). The purpose of this review is to analyse previous research on how parents experience their contact with CWS. The aim is to determine current knowledge, and to provide a synthesis of current understandings. The main research question that guides this review is: What parental emotional experiences are evident in previous research and what activated them? Furthermore, we compared the experiences among the different countries represented in this study. The wicked problem concept and emotions, stress and coping theory informed the analysis. The revised framework for integrative review inspires the methodology and analysis. Data was collected through a computerized database search, networking and journal hand search. Fifteen articles are included in this review representing five countries: Norway, Australia, Canada, the US and the United Kingdom. The analysis shows that even though parents reported some positive experiences, the contact is often stressful and highly emotional. To various degrees, anger, sadness, fear and anxiety were common responses. This review indicates that relational and procedural aspects of the process and parents’ perception of help measures in child welfare evoked parents’ emotions. The findings reflect more similarities than differences in emotional experiences in the different countries. We conclude with a discussion of implications for social work practice.



Various child welfare organizations are changing services by adopting child- and family-centered approaches and moving away from redundant bureaucracy, top-down strategies, and fragmented networks. This shift inevitably poses challenges. This article uses the case of intensive family case management in the Netherlands to explore conflicts perceived by professionals and associated coping strategies. Findings are that internal conflicts (leading to a relapse into old routines or to misinterpretation of purpose) and boundary conflicts (leading to a relapse into old collaboration agreements) cause challenges. Pioneering organizations need to provide support for learning and reflection between professionals, seeking alignment between accountability and learning.



The subject of stability for children in long‐term foster care is an emerging field within social work with vulnerable children. In Sweden, the adoption of foster children is not a common occurrence. Instead, when a child has been placed in foster care for 3 years, the local social welfare committee will consider whether the custody of the child should be transferred to the foster parents regardless of the circumstances of the birth parents, in order to secure stability and a sense of family belonging. Consequently, custody transfers raise questions such as “who is family?” and “who is a parent?” This qualitative interview study with custodians and young people who have experienced custody transfer highlights that who counts as family and as a parent is ambiguous. This article draws attention to how negotiations about family and parenthood revolve around biological, emotional, and relational dimensions. Furthermore, we show that stability for children in care has to be understood in terms of processes over time and not as the result of a single decision of custody transfer. Consequently, social workers need to take several aspects into account when they assess family belonging and stability for children in foster care.



The argument is made for having a positive error culture in child protection to improve decision‐making and risk management. This requires organizations to accept that mistakes are likely and to treat them as opportunities for learning and improving. In contrast, in many organizations, a punitive reaction to errors leads to workers hiding them and developing a defensive approach to their practice with children and families. The safety management literature has shown how human error is generally not simply due to a “bad apple” but made more or less likely by the work context that helps or hinders good performance. Improving safety requires learning about the weaknesses in the organization that contribute to poor performance. To create a learning culture, people need to feel that when they talk about mistakes or weak practice, there will be a constructive response from their organization. One aspect of reducing the blame culture is to develop a shared understanding of how practice will be judged and how those appraising practice will avoid the hindsight bias. To facilitate a positive error culture, a set of risk principles are presented that offer a set of criteria by which practice should be appraised.


Migrant children


Unaccompanied refugee minors are vulnerable due to previous and current experiences, yet often resourceful when resettling in a host country. Their experiences of ambivalence and trust in relationships with transnational family, peers and social workers have not been extensively researched. Using a qualitative longitudinal research design, we followed unaccompanied refugee youths during their first two years of resettlement in Norway. In our understanding, they struggled to overcome the tensions of being in-between what they could take for granted in the past and an indeterminate future. The changes the youths described were not initiated by or dependent on social work practice, but they have important implications for such practice. The youths developed capacity to assess trustworthiness of people and institutions, and they exerted more agency in developing new relationships. Our study suggests three interesting implications for social work practice and research: more emphasis should be put on (a) the youths as trust-givers, (b) how the youths assess trustworthiness, and (c) how social service organisations become trustworthy.




Our commentary highlights the authors’ conceptual and empirical contributions for understanding the incidence and dynamics of varying types of adoption breakdowns and their impact on adopted youth and their families. Important distinctions are made between legal, residential, and psychological/relational permanence for children. To date, most research has focused on factors supporting or undermining legal and residential permanence but has largely ignored children’s sense of psychological or relational permanence. Recommendations for future research and implications of findings for policy and practice are discussed.



The adoption of children from out-of-home care is uncommon in Australia and rarely occurs in the state of Victoria. This paper reports on how professionals involved in making decisions about the permanent placement of children explain the current rates of adoption from out-of-home care in Victoria. Interviews were conducted with eight child welfare specialists, eight adoption and permanent care specialists and five judicial officers. The current low rates of adoption were attributed to the effect of current legislation, the impact of past adoption practices and the establishment of a culture in Victoria in which adoption is now rarely considered an option for children in out-of-home care.



Current research on open adoption gives less consideration to issues surrounding post-adoption contact with birth parents for children adopted from care. Yet, it is widely recognized that the profile of the children and their birth parents, as well as the quality of post-adoption contacts, vary considerably depending on the context in which the adoption takes place. This article is based on interviews with 32 child welfare workers and 16 foster-to-adopt families. It focuses specifically on aspects and conditions that should be taken into consideration when determining whether or how contact between the adopted child and the birth family should be maintained. Our results show that there are distinctive challenges and dilemmas for open adoption in situations where the adopted child comes from a maltreating family, under the responsibility of child welfare services.



In the light of increased attention to the role of social work in UK adoption practices, this article takes a ‘turn to language’ and examines the neglected field of the words and phrases commonly used in the adoption process. It subjects these to a critical scrutiny and suggests that the vocabulary employed contains inaccuracies, euphemisms, misnomers and aspirational promises and carries implications that limit options and determine outcomes. The article provides other examples from social work practice with children and families and concludes that a critical approach to a profession’s everyday language use can uncover how power is exercised.



Adoption and permanence planning has been a key feature of Scotland’s policy in relation to children and young people who are “looked after.” Although policy and law has significantly developed in recent years, there has been comparatively little research on permanence processes in Scotland. This paper outlines key findings from the first comprehensive study of permanence planning in Scotland. It examines the process for two cohorts of children where adoption or other types of permanence orders were made. The children were selected under the long standing Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 and the more recent Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007. In total, 300 cases were examined, analysing data from the children’s first contact with services through to the order made by the Scottish Courts. This paper pays particular attention to the timescales found at key stages under the two sets of legislation and asks what difference the change in legislation has made.



Purpose: A rich and heterogeneous body of knowledge about adoption breakdown has accumulated in recent years. The goal of this article is to review the existing research literature on the topic. Method: A comprehensive review of journal articles, book chapters, and technical reports addressing the issue of adoption breakdown was conducted. Results: Terminological and methodological difficulties are discussed before the main findings about the incidence of adoption breakdown are presented. A detailed examination of the child, parent, and support and service characteristics associated with the breakdown experience follows. The review ends with the analysis of some policy and practice implications, as well as with suggestions about how to increase and improve the study of adoption breakdown. Discussion: Although research into adoption breakdown has achieved a considerable progress in recent years, improvements are still needed in both the basic research and the applied implications domains.



The historical legacy and the changing landscape of adoption in Ireland are currently garnering much attention. However, to date, the specifics of the changes have not yet been presented. This article provides a detailed numerical overview of who is being adopted and who is adopting in Ireland. The compilation of the available administrative data provides the basis for analysis of Irish trends in adoption between 1999 and 2016. The changing landscape of adoption practices captured in this data is discussed against a general backdrop of changing family structures. This analysis provides an overview of key trends, which will be useful for policy makers, practitioners and researchers alike. It is anticipated that the analysis and the identification of future trends will enhance professional practice development and will also identify areas of future service that require examination and further research



Purpose: This study examines foster care reentry after adoption, in Illinois and New Jersey. The provision of services and supports to adoptive families have garnered recent attention due to concern about the long-term stability of adoptive homes. Method:This study used administrative data to examine the pre-adoption characteristics associated with post-adoption foster care reentry. Children were tracked longitudinally, using administrative data, for five to fifteen years (depending on their date of adoption), or the age of majority. Results: Results indicated that most (95%) children did not reenter foster care after adoption. Findings from survival models suggested key covariates that may help to identify children most at risk for post-adoption reentry: child race, age at adoption, number of placement moves in foster care, and time spent in foster care prior to adoption. Conclusion: Study findings may help identify families most at-risk for post-adoption difficulties in order to develop preventative adoption service.



Concerns about democratic legitimacy in contemporary democracies bring new urgency to understanding how citizens’ attitudes and ideals affect their political activity. In this article, we analyse the relationship between citizens’ democratic ideals and political behaviour in the European Social Survey’s 2012 uniquely extensive questions on these topics in 29 countries. Using latent class analysis, we identify two groups of citizens who emphasise different citizenship concepts as discussed by T.H. Marshall, namely, a political rights and a social rights conception. The multilevel regression analyses indicate that those who emphasise social rights have relatively high levels of non-institutionalised political participation, but are less involved in institutionalised participation. In contrast, those who emphasise political rights are more active in all forms of participation. We conclude by discussing the implications of the findings that, even in an era of economic austerity, those who emphasise social rights are not the most politically active.


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