Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Protecting Kids: What people in eight countries think about parental freedoms

What happens when the state has to step in, and help kids whose parents are struggling? What do people think about these actions of the state?  This is what a recent study in eight European countries looked into. The study “Restricting family life – an examination of citizens’ views on state interventions and parental freedom in eight European countries” was conducted by professors and researchers Marit Skivenes, Asgeir Falch-Eriksen, and Bilal Hassan. This research aimed to know how people feel about the government stepping in when kids might be at risk. Let’s break down this study! 

The study included over 10,000 people from Austria, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Spain. Researchers used a special method called an experimental survey vignette. They created different stories where parents had serious problems like substance abuse, mental health problems, and learning difficulties. Each participant was given one of these stories to think about and share their thoughts.  

What did people say? 

The results showed that most people believed in some level of government intervention (like mandatory services or residential units for parents) to protect kids. For example, more people supported intervention in cases of substance abuse, thinking it was a bigger risk for kids. Mental health problems and learning difficulties also got support, but not as much as substance abuse. This suggests that people see substance abuse as more dangerous for kids than the other issues. 

What is probably the most interesting part is that the level of support for intervention varied between countries. This seems to be linked to how each country’s child protection system is set up. For example, people in countries focused more on child well-being had different opinions compared to those that leaned more towards protecting parental rights. 

How to protect both children and parents? 

This study also talks about the bigger debate on balancing the rights of parents and children. In democratic societies, individual rights are very important, including the right to privacy. However, these rights are not absolute. They can be limited if the actions of those individuals harm others, including children. 

Child protection is a tricky area where governments need to find a balance between respecting parents’ rights and keeping kids safe. This study sheds light on public opinions, showing that people generally support government intervention when kids are at risk. This support spans different countries and various child protection systems. 

The findings offer valuable insights into how people view government responsibility in protecting kids. They highlight a general agreement in favor of state intervention, challenging the harsh critiques often directed at child protection policies. The study suggests that most people do not oppose child protection systems stepping in to help families, contradicting the views of a small but vocal group of critics. 

The researchers recommend more studies to better understand how different parental issues impact public support for intervention. They also suggest looking at how these opinions vary across different countries’ policies, especially regarding treatable versus non-treatable parental conditions. Additionally, exploring views on the status of newborns in these scenarios could provide deeper insights. 

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