Child protection systems between professional cooperation and trustful relationships: A comparison of professional practical and ethical dilemmas in England/Wales, Germany, Portugal, and Slovenia

Thomas Meysen & Liz Kelly - Child & Family Social Work


This paper explores practical and ethical dilemmas for professionals when securing the protection of children in the complex non‐clinical setting of individual families. It is based on a cross‐country study on cultural encounters in interventions against child physical abuse and neglect in four countries (England/Wales, Germany, Portugal, and Slovenia). Drawing on national reports of legal‐organizational frameworks and socio‐cultural backgrounds of European child protection systems, it also presents the results of a series of focus groups with professionals. Data were analysed to identify implicit and explicit discursive constructions as well as normative representations and from this deriving the key ethical issues and dilemmas. Despite a shared normative framework across Europe, intervention cultures vary across the four countries and between the different stakeholder groups. Although each child protection system faced widespread mistrust, policy approaches differ, some relying on strong and detailed guidance whereas others stress professional skill and judgement. We conclude that despite a shared commitment to the protection of children, deliberations and perceived ethical dilemmas suggest interdependency between differences in system cultures and policy approaches that inform the character of professional interventions in the four countries.