Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

The invisible child

NEW ARTICLE: The authors of this article examine whether and how children at the centre of child protection removal decisions are represented in written judgments about their case. The results were discouraging. Six out of ten children were barely mentioned or not mentioned at all.

Professor Katrin Križ (Emmanuel College), Senior Researcher Jenny Krutzinna (University of Bergen /Oslo), Professor Tarja Pösö (University of Tampere), and Professor Marit Skivenes (University of Bergen) analyzed 216 judgments from eight countries[1] involving 220 infants in this recent publication in the International Journal of Children’s Rights.[2]

The article offers new insight into decision-makers’ considerations in removal cases and their exercise of discretion in weighting arguments and considerations in care order proceedings. The authors use the lens of a Child Equality Perspective, which puts children on equal footing with other individuals in society.

The Child Equality Perspective demands the child’s presence in proceedings, even for children not partaking fully in the decision-making process. It thus extends the classical position of child-centrism and children’s participation in decision-making. Not all children can participate, yet they should be represented.

– It is a right of all individuals to be involved in a process in which their future is determined even if their view of that future does not bear any weight on the final determination of matters; and even if they cannot hope to persuade others of their ability to make their own decisions, says Marit Skivenes.

The invisible child

While the authors expected children to be mentioned in the judgments, the results were discouraging. Six out of ten children were barely mentioned or not mentioned at all.

– From a decision-making point of view, our analysis displays a weakness in the information base for the decisions. Facts and evidence about the child are seemingly missing. Thus, a justifiable objection can be raised about the validity of these decisions, argues Skivenes.

The judgments scarcely mentioned the child’s pre-birth conditions and conditions at birth. Although, a relatively high proportion of the judgments mentioned risk or neglect. The child’s requirement for care was explicitly mentioned in just over half of the judgments. Typically, this was when a child had particular needs or special vulnerabilities due to medical conditions or their health.

– The fact that ten percent of the judgments provided specific descriptions of the baby and another 20 percent described both general and specific needs shows that it is indeed possible to include this information in a judgment, says Skivenes.

Differences between countries

There are cross-country differences. The German judgments were noteworthy because nearly half offered no description of the specific child. On the other hand, Austria and Norway mentioned the child in more than 90 percent of the cases.

– The country differences are indicative of how court systems approach and regard children and shows that there is variation in the presence of a child-centric approach. Moreover, they reveal individual differences between decision-makers exercising discretionary authority, argues Skivenes.

In conclusion, these findings suggest that judges use discretion in these cases and that it is possible to document the child’s presence. If decision-makers adopt a Child Equality Perspective, it could result in much greater visibility of children in cases like these, which are immensely important for children’s lives.

This is an open-access article available at brill.com/view/journals/chil/30/3/chil.30.issue-3.xml

[1] Austria, England, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Norway and Spain.

[2] Križ, K., Krutzinna, J., Pösö, T. & Skivenes, M. (2022) The Invisible Child: A Comparative Study of Newborn Removal Judgments from a Child Equality Perspective (CEP). The International Journal of Children’s Rights. Online Publication Date 22 August. Available at

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