Child welfare and future assessments – an analysis of discretionary decision-making in newborn removals in Norway

Ida Benedicte Juhasz - Children and Youth Services Review


This study explores a particularly wide discretionary space set for decision-making within the Norwegian welfare bureaucracy; care order decisions concerning newborns directly removed from the hospital by the child protection system. The aim is understanding how decision-makers reason and justify in applying (child welfare) policy when decisions have a predictive and uncertain nature. To explore this, all (N=19) written newborn care order decisions from 2016 decided by the County Social Welfare Board, where the parents have had no previous children removed, are analyzed. Under analysis are parents’ problems or problematic behavior and subsequent capacity to change. Three categories of change emerge; case problematics most often appear as permanent, a quarter as slow-moving, and a small number are transient, where some form of change is taking place. Further findings are large variations in the number of sources and contexts applied in the justifications. The study concludes that newborn cases involve a highly marginalized demographic within child protection, as decision-makers unitarily find high, long-lasting risk to equal minimal change capacity in a majority of the cases. Simultaneously, decision-makers appear to mitigate future uncertainty by invoking the parents’ childhoods, health and social welfare histories as parenting indicators.