Parents’ and child welfare workers’ understandings of consent to emergency placements

Parents’ and child welfare workers’ understandings of consent to emergency placements
Research Article
A.S. Storhaug, M.K. Fylkesnes, E. Langsrud, Ø. Christiansen
Nordic Social Work Research, 22 March 2023
Emergency placements of children are often made in haste and experienced as dramatic. This article is based on interviews with 9 parents who have consented to emergency placements and their caseworkers. We explore parents’ reasons for giving their consent to placement and the child welfare workers’ understanding of these consents. This leads to a discussion of what constitutes valid consent from parents in emergency cases. Relational autonomy is applied as a perspective to understand the context and influencing factors of parental consent. The results, derived by thematic analysis, show three main themes regarding parents’ reasons for their consent: (1) The child wanted to move out, (2) the parents couldn’t manage the situation, and (3) parents felt the child welfare service (CWS) gave them no choice. Parents experience a high degree of pressure in the context of giving their consent, either from their child or the CWS. Asymmetrical power dynamics between the CWS and parents were highly present and relevant in parents’ reasons for consent, especially when the CWS communicated that the alternative to consent is coercive placement. Furthermore, it is often unclear to the parents what consent entails. This is especially evident through CWS’s regulation of child-parent contact. In the discussion, we emphasize a high degree of awareness on the part of CW workers with regards to understanding how contextual and relational factors influence parent’s choice to consent; when consent is valid; how far consent extends, and the potential weakening of parents’ legal security when a voluntary placement is conducted.

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