Proposal for temporary amendments to the Child Welfare Act to handle the increase in refugees from Ukraine to Norway

A large number of children are expected to arrive in Norway in the same period of time and many may require help from the child welfare service. The Norwegian Government is proposing necessary adaptations today to prepare the services to receive several children over a short period of time.

‘Displaced children are a very vulnerable group, especially children who flee without caregivers. Several of the children who are fleeing to Norway will need help and support from the child welfare service. We need a good system to take care of them which is flexible enough to offer suitable care to each child who arrives,’ says Minister of Children and Families Kjersti Toppe.

Unchanged requirement of due process

The current dispensation rules generally offer the necessary flexibility to handle a large increase in the number of children who arrive in care centres. Nevertheless, if a large number of children arrive in Norway at the same time, the services may become overwhelmed in the future, meaning that the services offered by the child welfare service may become unpredictable. The Norwegian Government therefore proposes making necessary adaptations to the rules to increase the flexibility of the system.

‘One important legislative proposal is that the Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufetat) must be able to decide to offer stays in private homes for children who arrive in Norway without their parents, instead of a care centre. This could be a good solution for young children in particular. The County Governor’s responsibility for supervising care centres will remain unchanged, but in this extraordinary situation, we plan to establish temporary regulations that allow the County Governor to decide how many on-site inspections to conduct each year,’ states Ms Toppe.

The Norwegian Government also proposes individual exemptions from the requirement of a specific number of follow-up and inspection visits and deadlines for the municipal child welfare service. The objective is to increase the flexibility of the County Governors and the municipalities to prioritise their resource use as best possible,’ says Ms Toppe.

The proposal was sent out for consultation, and about 30 consultation bodies made statements about the proposals regarding amendments to the Child Welfare Act. Based on their input, some proposals were adjusted in the direction of strengthening the children's due process rights.

‘I have assessed the proposals in relation to Norway’s human rights obligations. The proposals focus on removing bottlenecks and equipping the system to handle an increase in the number of children, but a basic principle behind the proposals is safeguarding the needs of these vulnerable children, and securing their due process rights,’ states Ms Toppe.

Some of the changes proposed:

  • Bufetat currently has care centres that serve unaccompanied minors. It would be better for young children in particular to stay in a home while they wait to be settled. The Norwegian Government proposes that Bufetat offers children a family-based placement instead of a place in a care centre. The home must meet the same requirements as those that apply to foster homes. Bufetat will keep general care responsibilities for children, and will be responsible for approving homes, as well as following up the home and each child. The Norwegian Government proposes establishing legal authority to obtain a police certificate of conduct for people who will be bringing children into private homes.
  • Supervisory activities are important to safeguard children's due process rights. A considerable increase in the number of children will put pressure on the County Governors' resources in terms of their obligation to conduct a set number of on-site inspections per year. This is why the Ministry will establish an exemption from the requirement of a specific number of inspection visits at care centres and private homes, allowing the County Governor to decide how many on-site inspections to conduct every year. The exemptions will only apply when it is essential for the County Governor to prioritise its supervisory activities well, and on-site inspections should be conducted when new care centres are opened. The Ministry will ask the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision to monitor the County Governor's supervisory practices.
  • In order to ensure that the municipal child welfare service has greater flexibility to allocate its resources in the face of pressure, to best serve all of the children it is responsible for, certain changes will be proposed to the requirement regarding the set number of inspection visits and deadlines. This will increase the ability of the child welfare service to prioritise the use of resources as best possible.

The temporary amendments will apply until 1 July 2023. Similar amendments will be proposed in a new Child Welfare Act. Some of the amendments will be imposed by the Ministry in temporary regulations.

The amendments will only be applied when a high threshold is passed. The exemptions may only be applied if a high number of people displaced from Ukraine to Norway make it necessary to offer services to children, which is not the case at present.

Certain proposals have been removed following input from the consultation:

  • The proposal to remove the obligation to make a decision on how to follow up children when they are staying at a care centre or in a family-based placement will not be kept. The Norwegian Government nonetheless proposes that the deadline for care centres to draft a follow-up decision be extended from 3–5 weeks, and 6–10 weeks for Bufetat to make a decision regarding follow-up.
  • The Ministry is abandoning the proposal to grant an exemption from the requirement that foster parents complete the necessary training before children move in. Instead, the Ministry will look at whether the content of the training can be adapted, so that it can be completed more quickly.