Risk for referral to the child welfare system following parental relationship transitions in Norway

Child Abuse Negl. 2023 Dec:146:106459. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2023.106459. Epub 2023 Oct 7.


Background: There is a lack of knowledge concerning how changes in family structures are associated with involvement in child welfare systems. Particularly little attention has been paid to the role of parental relationship transitions, which may involve major changes in the lives of children and parents in terms of housing, finances, and relationship boundaries between family members.

Objective: To investigate how transitions in parental relationship status are linked to referrals to the child welfare system.

Participants and setting: All children born in Norway in 1995 (N = 60,218) and 2005 (N = 56,644) and their parents.

Methods: This retrospective birth cohort study consisted of child welfare statistics merged with various registers from Statistics Norway. Logistic panel-data models were used to examine the relationship between the occurrence of a parental relationship transition and referral to the child welfare system. Four types of relationship transitions were analyzed: (1) couple to a single mother, (2) couple to a single father, (3) single mother to a couple, and (4) single father to a couple.

Results: The occurrence of any type of relationship transition increased the likelihood of referral to the child welfare system in the year that the transition occurred, with the transitions to single motherhood, to single fatherhood, and from single fatherhood to a couple associated with greater odds of referral than the transition from single motherhood to a couple.

Conclusions: Understanding how parental relationship transitions are associated with referrals to the child welfare system is important to appropriately facilitate help to families in need.

Keywords: Child protection services; Child welfare; Demographic transition; Linked data; Longitudinal cohort; Socioeconomic status.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Welfare*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Parents*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies