European Child Welfare Systems - comparative analyses on the meaning of family and the outcomes for children in institucional or foster care
Sociology ISCTE Quinta do Conde, Sesimbra, Portugal
Child protection practice has undergone major changes in the last decades in several European countries. Although country specific laws have been strengthened and somewhat homogenized by the ratification of several international conventions, the most important being the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from 1989, national protection proceedings show slightly different practices between countries and different outcomes on the placements of children at risk and on decisions concerning adoption.
In Portugal, due to recent highly mediatized cases concerning the withdrawal of children custody from biological families and placement of children into foster or institutionalized care, discussion about what exactly defines and constitutes a family has risen, not only among specialists but also within society and public opinion. Definitions of family based on biology and blood ties compete with more social conceptions of family where the emotional links are given more importance.
This debate has highlighted the coexistence of diverse definitions and conceptions of family, but most importantly, has revealed the importance that these different views of family relations undertake on the processes of decision making about the placement of children after leaving institutional or foster care and on decisions concerning adoption. Although Portuguese legislation specifies that all measures on children's lives should take into account the child best interest, this notion of what's best for the child appears to be left to the personal judgement of judges and social workers and to their more biological or social definitions of family and conceptions of family relations.
Through the analysis of child protection systems of several European countries, this paper tries to understand if different conceptions of family emerge from the several legal frameworks and more specifically if the different weight or importance given to biology and genetic ties in defining family mean different practices among Child Welfare Services and different outcomes concerning children placement after leaving foster or institutional care.
In sum, the scope of this article is to assess if whether we can talk about one European Child Protection System or if, instead, we have a multitude of diferent child protection procedures among European countries.