Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Populations express confidence in their child protection system

NEW ARTICLE in the prestigious Journal of Social Policy: PhD candidate Mathea Loen and Professor Marit Skivenes finds that a majority of populations in Czechia, England, Finland, Norway, Poland, and Romania express confidence in their child protection system.

The child protection system and social services are a part of legitimate state institutions which are crucial to democratic governance, stability, and the sustainability of the welfare state. As legitimacy is often closely linked to the notion of trust and confidence, this study investigates public confidence in the child protection system by comparing six European countries: Czechia, England, Finland, Norway, Poland, and Romania. The focus on these specific countries is related to their differences in terms of CPS, welfare state models and rankings on child wellbeing measurements. The study provides important knowledge on peoples’ confidence in relation to the CPS through representative data from six European countries.

Risk oriented system vs. Family oriented system

The six countries in this study represent different child protection systems, where England, Finland and Norway have a family-oriented system. Czechia, Poland, and Romania on the other hand, has a risk-orientated system. The findings in this study show that people from a family-oriented system have significantly higher trust levels than those in a risk-oriented system. The paper distinguish between two types of CPS systems, namely a risk-oriented system and a family-oriented system. These two systems vary in their approach towards families and children in need of support and services. The fundamental objective in a risk-oriented system is to secure children’s safety and is a system that has a relatively high threshold for interventions and a narrow area for what falls under the state’s responsibility for action. A family service-oriented system, however, aims to help and support families and advocates for services that aim to create change in the family circumstances. In this system, the threshold for intervention is lower as the basis for service and interventions is the child’s needs.

Although people in general have confidence in their child protection system, there are noteworthy differences between countries, with citizens from England and Finland reporting greater confidence and those from Romania and Norway reporting lower confidence. Differences between populations are linked to the institutional context through the type of child protection system adopted in the country. Citizens’ view on their moral alignment with the system or not, only demonstrates small differences in support of interventions. However, one of the most noticeable findings in this study is that two societies that are known to be the most child centric, Finland and Norway display a tendency of polarization through clear differences in support of state interventions that restrict parental rights. This may to some extent signify legitimacy challenges in this area of the welfare state.

The study provides us with an important insight into citizens’ confidence in relation to the CPS which increases our knowledge of the legitimacy of the state, public administration, and the judiciary. The research in this article also provides new insights into the literature on institutional context and expands our knowledge on the impact of established authorities. It also adds to the knowledge between a person’s beliefs on their moral alignment and their recommendation for state interventions.

The article is open access and can be found here.

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