A court file analysis of child protection cases: What do children say?

Nicole Kratky & Michela Schröder-Abé - Child & Family Social Work


Children's participation in legal proceedings affecting them personally has been gaining importance. So far, a primary research concern has been how children experience their participation in court proceedings. However, little is known about the child's voice itself: Are children able to clearly express their wishes, and if so, what do they say in child protection cases? In this study, we extracted information about children's statements from court file data of 220 child protection cases in Germany. We found 182 children were asked about their wishes. The majority of the statements found came either from reports of the guardians ad litem or from judicial records of the child hearings. Using content analysis, three main aspects of the statements were extracted: wishes concerning main place of residence, wishes about whom to have or not contact with, and children granting decision‐making authority to someone else. Children's main focus was on their parents, but others (e.g., relatives and foster care providers) were also mentioned. Intercoder agreement was substantial. Making sure that child hearings are as informative as possible is in the child's best interest. Therefore, the categories developed herein might help professionals to ask questions more precisely relevant to the child.