Coping with Paradoxes: Norwegian Child Welfare Leaders Managing Complexity
The child welfare service in Norway is in the spotlight internationally after the European Court of Human Rights (EMD) convicted Norway of human rights violations in several child welfare cases. Norwegian child welfare services are presented as having weaknesses in competence, prioritization, structure and supervision. The child welfare service in Norway has a decentralized structure, and most tasks are a municipal responsibility. The paper explores what leadership challenges the municipal child welfare leaders are facing at a time when the service is under great pressure, and how we can understand these challenges using paradox theory. The empirical data are based on qualitative interviews with child welfare leaders from different municipalities in Norway. The study shows that Norwegian child welfare leaders have to deal with increasing complexity, and experience tensions between contradictory demands. Child welfare leaders manage multiple, interrelated paradoxes, and handle tensions in different ways. Further, the study shows that paradoxical tensions challenge the professional judgement and that the child welfare leaders’ managerial discretion is reduced. Finally, we discuss the findings as well as the practical implications for managing child welfare services in Norway.