Children and young people’s opinions on topics in the proposal for a new Children’s Act
The purpose of this mapping review was to identify what research exists that has explored children and youth’s opinions about topics addressed in the proposed Norwegian Children’s Act and to describe relevant findings.
A proposal has been made for a new Children's Act in Norway (NOU 2020: 14). It proposes, among other things, to strengthen the child's right to participation, care, development and protection against violence, and family life. In drafting a new Children's Act, it is important to integrate children's opinions and experiences. To provide an overview of available research on what children think about the topics in the proposed new Act, we mapped available research where children's opinions on such topics were explored. We conducted a scoping review, i.e., a summary that maps and describes research on a specific topic area.
This review included 28 studies, addressing the topics of living arrangements (n=13), parental separation (n=5), participation in mediation (n=4), domestic violence (n=4), involvement in decision-making (n=1), autonomy (n=1), and visitation (n=1) (one study covered both living arrangements and parental separation). The studies found that most children and youth state that they want:
- to be heard and taken seriously in matters that affect them, and have an active role in decision-making processes that affect their lives
- stability and predictability in their lives, especially when it comes to living- and visitation arrangements after parental separation
- good information and support to understand and deal with difficult situations, such as conflicts in close relationships and participation in mediation.
The findings also suggest that information, support and participation in decision-making processes must be adapted to participants’ age, developmental level and family situation.
This scoping review provides an overall picture of findings from Nordic qualitative research, exploring what children and young people say is important to them when it comes to topics in the Children’s Act.
The Norwegian Children’s Act came into force in 1982. It regulates several important matters relating to children and young people. After 40 years there is a need to update the act. In 2018, the government appointed a committee to consider modernizing the Children's Act considering developments in new forms of cohabitation, family structures and, not least, children's rights. The committee submitted its proposal for a new Children's Act in December 2020, for follow-up by the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs. The aim was to strengthen children's rights, including the right to participation and protection against violence, and to ensure that the best interests of the child are considered. The principle of the child's right to participation is enshrined in both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Norwegian Constitution. In the work to design a new Children's Act, it is important to emphasize children's own opinions and experiences. To ensure that children's voices are considered, the Ministry of Children and Families wishes to map research on children's opinions and experiences related to the topics in the proposed Act. The mapping will help to highlight children's opinions and experiences on topics covered by the new Children's Act and help to identify any knowledge gaps in the area.
The purpose of this mapping review was to identify what research exists that has explored children and youth’s opinions about topics addressed in the proposed Norwegian Children’s Act and to describe relevant findings
We included empirical studies with qualitative data from the Nordic region published in the period 2010-2023 in which children and young people aged 0-18 years, and young adults with experiences from their own childhood, gave their own opinions on relevant topics addressed in the proposed new Children’s Act. A search specialist conducted a systematic literature search in seven literature databases – including MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Epistemonikos – in June 2023. We also searched Google, Nordic scientific archives, library catalogues, selected journals and websites, and reviewed the reference lists of relevant studies. Titles and abstracts were assessed against the inclusion criteria using machine learning, and relevant studies were retrieved in full text. Two project members independently assessed the full texts against the inclusion criteria. Methodological limitations in the included studies were assessed independently by two researchers using the CASP checklist for qualitative studies. One project member extracted data from the studies and another checked that the data were correctly extracted. We assessed similarities between the studies’ findings and looked for patterns across them for each theme, but we did not perform a synthesis of findings across studies. The results are presented narratively, summarized, and described in text and tables.
We included 28 unique studies, described in 35 publications, which collected the opinions of a total of 559 children, adolescents, and young adults. The studies were from Norway (n=18), Denmark (n=4), Sweden (n=3), Finland (n=2) and Iceland (n=1).
The included studies dealt with the following topics: living arrangements (n=13), parental separation (n=5), participation in mediation (n=4), domestic violence (n=4), involvement in decision-making (n=1), autonomy (n=1), and visitation (n=1) (one study covered both living arrangements and parental separation).
Nine of the studies had either moderate/major methodological limitations (n=6) or major methodological limitations (n=3). Moderate/major limitations in the studies were mainly due to missing or partial descriptions of one or more of the assessment points: how the analyses were conducted, reflexivity (reflection on one's own position on the topic and its significance for the research) and ethical considerations. Major methodological limitations were mainly due to a lack of descriptions of several of the assessment points: context, sampling strategy, how the analyses were conducted, reflexivity and ethical considerations.
Living arrangements (n=12)
The studies reported that children have different perceptions and preferences regarding residence after a parental breakup. Most children had positive experiences of shared residence because it meant, among other things, the possibility of contact with both parents, but some children experienced challenges with shared residence. The variations in the children’s experiences were related to the child’s age and the family’s situation, among other things.
Parental separation/divorce (n=5)
The studies reported that children experience different feelings and challenges in connection with parental separation and when parents live separately. Many children experience increased agency when their parents break up, and report that they can participate in key decision-making processes. Many of the children report a desire for stability and predictability during this phase.
Participation in mediation (n=5)
The studies reported that children have different experiences and opinions about participation in mediation processes after relationship breakdown, but in general the experiences are positive. Many of the children express a need for adequate information and adapted support, also after the mediation process.
Domestic violence (n=4)
The studies reported that children who have experienced violence in close relationships may have different challenges and needs for assistance. Children exposed to domestic violence experienced their ability to act as limited due to unequal power relations in the family. Many of the children used several different strategies for dealing with and protecting themselves from violence by their caregiver. Children exposed to violence or who experience domestic violence highlight the desire to be heard and understood by people in the role of helper, and a desire for adequate support and protection.
Right of participation and self-determination (n=1)
The studies reported that children and young people want to be heard and included in decisions that affect their own lives. Children’s agency becomes visible in power struggles and negotiations with parents. Children demonstrated their agency by resisting or complying with their parents’ demands, and by finding ways to accommodate their own wishes within the framework set by their parents.
Discussion and conclusion
This mapping review shows that there is important, but somewhat limited research in the Nordic region that has collected children's opinions on topics covered by the proposed new Children's Act. Most of the research focuses on living arrangements, parental separation, domestic violence and participation in mediation.
There is limited research on children's right participation and self-determination and contact with a parent. We did not identify any studies that explored themes related to parenthood, parental disputes going to court, relocation, privacy and private life or finances, including child support. Similarly, we did not find any studies that investigated the opinions of very young children, and there are limited studies that explored the opinions or experiences of children of kindergarten age.
The strengths of this mapping review include its extensive literature searches and the large number of included studies from the Nordic region - with a clear majority of studies from Norway - which strengthens the relevance and transferability to a Norwegian context. However, we did not perform a synthesis of findings across studies or assess our confidence in the results with GRADE-CERQual, which means that the results must be interpreted with caution.
Based on the findings of the included studies, it appears that most children and young people want to be heard and taken seriously, especially when it comes to decisions that affect them. In general, but especially after a break-up between parents and the agreement on living arrangements for the child, many of the children express that they need stability and predictability, as well as good information and support to deal with difficult situations. The findings of the included studies suggest that information, support and participation in decision-making processes must be better adapted to children and young people's age, developmental level and family situation.