Managing complex child law – social workers’ decision making under Danish legal regulation


  • Idamarie Leth Svendsen Metropolitan University College Copenhagen


Children and youth services, assessment, legal complexity, decision-making, rules-of-thumb, heuristics


The article reports the findings of a qualitative study of Danish legal regulation of the public initial assessment of children and young persons and municipal practitioners’ decision-making under this regulation. The regulation mirrors new and complex relations between families and society and the study asks how the legal design influences municipal social-workers’ decision-making. The aim of the study is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the legal component in practitioners’ decision-making in this field. The study is based on a textual analysis of the regulation and on empirical data in the form of 7 individual vignette interviews with municipal mid-level managers and professional consultants in five Danish municipalities. The study finds that the regulation is more complex than it looks, and that the complexity is handled through simplifying decision-making patterns that can be seen as heuristic rules-of-thumb. Therefore, regulators such as parliamentarians, professional organizations and judicial reviewers are recommended to take such patterns into account in the regulatory process.