The Norwegian Child Welfare System in a Comparative Perspective

Project owner

Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

Project period

October 2010 - May 2018

Funding sources


Total budget

Project summary

A significant political and social challenge in modern democratic states is how to provide for children at risk of poverty, abuse, neglect and other dangers that might inflict harm.

From a political perspective, a main dilemma is how to provide for and protect children without intruding on the parents’ rights of privacy and their right to a family life of their own choosing. This dilemma is accentuated by the fact that children are ascribed strong individual rights in the Convention on Children’s Rights (CRC) and in national laws. At the same time, children depend on their caregivers to fulfill their rights.

Multiculturalism poses another major dilemma, because the apparently private nature of the family, evident in parental demands to bring up their children in their own culture, potentially opposes children’s individual rights. These demands may also contradict ideas of a standardized conception of the principle of the child’s best interest and democratic-liberal principles of equality and freedom, irrespective of parents’ cultural origin. All countries with an operating child welfare system are facing similar challenges.

This project seeks to explore how states handle these dilemmas and conflicts by comparing child welfare policies and practices in societies with different child welfare systems and historical experiences of multiculturalism: Norway, England and the United States.

In child welfare research, there is generally a lack of comparative analysis of and cross-national data on how states balance different principles, how they identify risk, and how they handle their responsibility for child safety. Further, analysis of the rationale for policies and decisions taken by professionals in the child welfare system as well as analysis of service users’ perceptions of the child welfare system are few, in Norway as well as internationally.

Research questions

This project undertakes a comparative analysis that identifies and analyses the principles and practices of three contemporary child welfare systems.  It also provides an analysis of service users’ perceptions of these systems. Addressing both policy and practice levels of the child welfare system, this project aims to thoroughly discuss four main questions from different angles:

  • What are the ranges of state responsibility and how does the state handle multiculturalism?
  • How are qualified decisions made by child welfare workers, and can they stand up against public scrutiny?
  • What knowledge is considered relevant and valid in the child welfare system?
  • How are children perceived, and are children’s views heard and given due weight?