Department of Government

What do we know about children’s representation in child protection decisions?

PhD Fellow Frøydis Lønborg Haarberg published a scoping review on children’s representation in child protection decisions in the prestigious journal Children and Youth Services Review.

A sketch of people talking.

Main content

Although children’s right to participate in child protection decision-making is protected by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), children often lack representation in these cases, making it a challenge to ensure that children’s views and best interests are acknowledged. 

In the latest publication “What do we know about children’s representation in child protection decisions? A scoping review”, PhD Fellow Frøydis Lønborg Haarberg identifies and analyses the literature on representation of children in child protection decisions by conducting an extensive search for peer-reviewed research articles in English and Norwegian, which were published between 1990 and 2022. This article entails 51 relevant studies identified from 7,800 articles, most of which are from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Norway.  

– Representation arrangements to ensure that children’s best interests are heard are crucial as children, caregivers, and social workers often cannot represent children adequately. It is clear that we do not know much about children’s representation overall, explains Lønborg Haarberg. 

Considerable knowledge gaps  

Lønborg Haarberg states that it is noteworthy that many children lack representation. However, the research also highlighted significant gaps in the knowledge base on children’s representation due to the complexity of representation arrangements, predominance of qualitative studies, limited coverage of subdimensions of representation, and a lack of full-scale studies on children’s representation in decision-making contexts. 

– We lack larger-scale studies on representation, particularly employing quantitative methods and representative samples. Additionally, we also need research on representing intersectional groups of children, going beyond Europe and English-speaking countries, notes the author.  

Furthermore, the article states that there is a particular necessity for cross-country studies, considering that these investigations into public space provide an important foundation for legitimate arrangements.

Existing knowledge can help enhance children’s representation  

Aiming to understand the complexities of children’s representation in crucial decision-making processes, recent studies have highlighted certain disparities in support for representatives. Despite the existing knowledge gaps, the perspectives and assessments provided by these studies offer valuable insights that can guide policymakers and practitioners in their efforts to evaluate and improve children’s representation. 

– Future research should focus on patching up the research gaps on children’s representation in child protection decision-making. By identifying the existing research base and frontier, we can prioritise new research, test existing knowledge, and make arrangements that benefit children, stated Lønborg Haarberg. 

Notably, the review underscores the necessity for increased funding and support at the policy level to develop further research into this vital area, by providing an insight into specific research methodologies and domains essential for progress. 

The article is part of the Children's Right to Participation project. The article is open access and can be found here.