Speech/statement | Date: 04/05/2016
4th of May 2016. Theme: Child Welfare.
Thank you for this opportunity to meet you all. It is of great importance that Norwegian authorities meet with foreign authorities and embassies to provide information about our child welfare system. I am therefore pleased that this meeting is taking place and that so many important actors are here today.
My Ministry is responsible for the general child welfare policy in Norway. Individual child welfare cases are handled by the Child Welfare Services in the municipality. Neither I, nor the Ministry have the authority to intervene in individual child welfare cases.
The Ministry work continuously to develop and strengthen the child welfare system. Both the quality of work in the child welfare service and the legal safeguards for the families. Parents as well as the children are important stakeholders in this work. It is important that we have a well-functioning child welfare and that the population trust the service.
Children's rights are important to Norwegian authorities. All children who live in Norway, no matter background or reason for living here, have a right to care and protection.
Good dialogue and communication is important in all welfare work. All families should be met with understanding and respect. It is important for me that the service work preventative with families to avoid care orders.
Norwegian child welfare has been repeatedly criticized - also outside of Norway. From the international media, you can get the impression that Norway places more children in alternative care than other countries, and that families with a foreign citizenship or background is especially targeted.
This is not true.
Placing a child outside the home against the will of the parents, shall always be a measure of last resort.
A recent report from Council of Europe shows that the number of children in alternative care is low in Norway compared to other European countries.
Child welfare cases are sensitive and difficult matters, which give rise to strong feelings. The service is often subject to criticism – and the criticism comes in different forms. We often hear children say that the help came too late. Others criticize the service for implementing too invasive measures too early.
The best interest of the child is a primary consideration in all child welfare cases.
The child welfare service is primarily a help service. The child welfare system places great importance on family ties and continuity in the child’s upbringing. The underlying assumption is that children should grow up with their parents.
In the clear majority of all child welfare cases the service provides voluntary assistance to children and families. Help is usually given in the home.
These cases rarely get media attention.
The service should always try to help the parents in their parenting role. However, sometimes assistive measure are not enough to protect the child. A care order can only be passed in serious cases of violence, abuse or neglect when it is necessary and in the best interest of the child.
A County Social Welfare Board, not the local child welfare service, decides a care order. The Boards are independent and impartial decision-making authorities specialized in child welfare. I am happy that the Director of the Boards, Ms. Pernille Pettersen Smith, is here to give a presentation later on.
The child welfare service shall always look within the family and close network to find foster homes. Placements within family and close network has increasing in the last years. The child welfare service use family counsel more often to mobilize and use resources within the family to solve challenges. These are important topic in the White Paper on Foster Care, which I presented to the Parliament in March.
I recognize that we have challenges when it comes to meeting an increasingly multicultural population. Due to globalization and migration, more children with foreign citizenship are in contact with the child welfare service.
I recognize the need for more international cooperation in order to secure the best interest of the child. We live in a global world and the determination of the best interest of the child goes beyond national borders.
I know that many embassies here today have different experiences with local child welfare services. My Ministry has therefore produced guidelines to the child welfare services on this issue.
One of the main points of the guidelines is that the child welfare service must consider if the child has close family members abroad before initiating a care order. The guidelines also provide information about consular assistance in child welfare cases and cooperation with foreign authorities.
The Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs will give a presentation of the guidelines later on. The Directorate is responsible for implementing the guidelines with the child welfare services.
Norway has also ratified the Hague Convention of 1996 on parental responsibility and protection of children. The Convention can facilitate better cooperation between Norway and other countries to ensure the best interest of the child.
Upon ratification, the Child Welfare Act will allow for placement in foster homes or institutions in another Contracting State. Such placements can only happen as a voluntary assistive measure, not after a care order. However, it will be possible to transfer a child welfare case to another Contracting State, if it is in the child's best interest. This can be a solution if a child has stronger ties to another country and it is in the child's best interest to have a long-term placement in that country.
The Convention will enter into force 1 July 2016. The Directorate is appointed as the Norwegian Central Authority and will provide more information about the Convention.
I would like to mention that the Government has initiated several projects to strengthen the child welfare.
A committee has been appointed to review the Child Welfare Act. The committee is asked explicitly to consider the child welfare services’ responsibilities when children have strong ties to other countries. The committee will present its report in August 2016 and propose a new Child Welfare Act.
I have also initiated a reform of the child welfare system. With the reform, the services will get better opportunities to help families at an early stage with the right help. The aim is, among others, to prevent care orders. More expertise and competence in the municipalities are parts of the reform.
Finally, there shall be a review of a wider range of child welfare cases; both care orders and emergency orders. The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision has been given the commission. They shall assess and evaluate the work of the child welfare services, experts in child welfare cases as well as the Boards. The review will provide a picture of how the system works and reveal what goes wrong in some cases. I hope to get recommendations on how the trust in the child welfare service and the legal protection for children and parent can be strengthened.
I hope you will find todays' meeting useful.
Again, thank you for coming.