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  • Author or Editor: Katrin Križ x
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Participatory Child Protection Practice in Norway and the United States
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This book examines a participatory approach in child protection practices in both Norway and the United States, despite key organizational differences.

Križ explores ways that children can be empowered to participate in child protection investigations and decisions after removal from home. The author shows how children can be encouraged to develop and express their own opinions and explores tools for child protection workers to negotiate complex boundaries around the inclusion of children in decision-making.

She presents valuable insights from front-line child protection professionals’ unique perspectives and experiences within two very different systems, and evaluates the impacts of different organizational practices in promoting children’s participation.

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This chapter analyses when and how child protection caseworkers reported doing participation in their everyday practice. The term 'doing participation' refers to the range of possible participation, from minimal participation by listening to a child's opinions and reflections without taking them into consideration to promoting genuine participation in decision-making. The chapter examines to what degree the study participants facilitated genuine participation, defined as children's opinions being heard and weighed in decision-making. The study participants discussed included the removal of children from home, support services, foster care placements, and children's contact with their parent(s) while in care. There are three ways in which the study participants reported doing participation: giving information, facilitating participation, and gathering information. Almost half of the total sample reported facilitating children's genuine participation.

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This chapter describes how the study participants reported promoting participation when working with teens. There is strong evidence in the data of age serving as a symbolic boundary between a child's genuine participation (being consulted and empowered) and being consulted but not given power. The research participants in the study described their interactions with teenagers as providing participatory opportunities for them. The ways in which the study participants described their interactions with teens showed that they accepted their status as citizens. They reported listening to and consulting teens more so than younger children. They stated that they involved teens earlier and more directly in an investigation by speaking with them or meeting with them separately from their parents, by inviting them to meetings, and by communicating with them more honestly about the problems they saw in a case. While teens' participation level was reportedly higher than that of younger children, the way in which the participants perceived teens affected the degree to which workers let them participate.

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This chapter highlights the participatory approaches that exist in child protection practice. Citizens are people who actively participate in decisions about their lives and the communities in which they live. If child protection caseworkers promote children's participation in these decisions, they also play a role in promoting their status as citizens. Of course, children's interactions with other children and young people and other adults may contribute to children's and young people's status as citizens as well. The participation of children in child protection-related decisions is only one 'building block' of a larger historical trajectory towards children's citizenship and children's rights. Nonetheless, it is worthy of exploration because abused and neglected children are in an especially vulnerable position.

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This introductory chapter presents the argument and goal of the book, which is to show in what ways child protection caseworkers employed by public child protection agencies in Norway and the United States (California) can create citizens by promoting the participation of children and young people in their everyday practice. Public child protection agencies are only one part of the citizenship piece, but they are a salient one in the lives of children and young people who encounter them. Child protection caseworkers, the 'street-level bureaucrats' working in public child protection agencies, make very important decisions about children and young people's lives and provide children, youth, and families with pertinent services. Children and youth must be able to participate in administrative decisions, according to the international standards set by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Street-level bureaucrats like child protection caseworkers have the power to create the conditions for children's and young people's participation. They can thus shape children and young people's opportunities to act as citizens.

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This chapter discusses how children's participation in child protection remains a contested practice. The term 'contested practice' here refers to a set of social practices related to children's participation in decision-making occurring in child protection, including decisions about children's removal from home into foster or residential care, out-of-home placements, contact with parents and siblings while in care, and decisions related to family reunification. The chapter starts by describing how children experience participation in different child protection systems in Norway, the United States, and other countries. It then focuses on the barriers to children's participation in child protection, especially the role that child protection workers play in creating participation barriers. The chapter shows that child protection workers' lack of availability, skills, training and a respectful rapport with children present participation barriers. Workers' protective attitudes and safety concerns in high-risk case contexts prevent children's participation too.

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This chapter examines child protection caseworkers' views of the factors that lead to children's non-participation. It analyses the interview responses of 67 child protection caseworkers who were asked whether they thought there were situations when it would not be appropriate to involve children in child protection-related processes. Workers in both Norway and the United States perceived several reasons why children can or should not participate. These reasons, which can be called 'non-participation triggers', included: children's young age; children's severe disability or mental illness, such as speech problems or a severe mental health issue that incapacitated children; and the possibility of negative emotional impact of the involvement on children. Study participants also mentioned the possibility of retraumatizing the child if they faced an abuser in a meeting and any imminent risk to children's safety. A few workers in both countries mentioned the occurrence of a crime as a non-involvement trigger, a case focus on providing parenting support services, or the child's wish not to be involved.

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This chapter assesses the case conditions that lead a child protection caseworker to take children's statements, opinions, and wishes seriously. The study participants from both Norway and the United States talked about situations involving collaboration between children and workers and child-led participation when they described the case scenarios where children's opinions counted. There were several common themes. Children's age mattered to the extent to which workers took their opinion seriously: most study participants described case examples that involved pre-teens and teens. Case context also mattered: more than one third of the participants described situations that involved a child who wanted to be removed from their home, and the workers then ended up supporting the child's wish. In many of these cases, the child's expression of their experience or opinion was one piece of the evidence that workers were considering in the case.

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Austria is a federal republic, consisting of nine states, with a child population of 1,535,958 as of 1 January 2019 (Statistik Austria, 2019a, 2019b). Austrian federalism is limited, in that only few legislative powers remain with the regional states (‘Länder’). The domain of child welfare and protection is one of them and thus falls under the responsibility of the states. The federal 1989 child welfare law constitutes the basis of child welfare services (CWS) but the nine states have their own laws. Austria’s decentralised and regionalised system, with no nationwide quality criteria, a lack of many standardised and comparable statistics, and large variation in local practices, met with harsh criticism in the past (Reinprecht, 2015). The 2013 Federal Child Welfare Services Law (B-KJHG) introduced uniform criteria for service providers and standardised statistics across the regions; however, it did not change the systemic division of competencies between the federal state and the regions as the implementation of child protection legislation and responsibilities remained at the district and regional levels (Reinprecht, 2015). The local and regional variation in services may be further exacerbated following the devolution of child welfare from the federal level to the nine states after the repeal of the first part of the 2013 Child Welfare Services Law.

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