Protection in Norway: Changing Ideologies
A frame of reference from which to understand children and
their families in a family policy perspective is developed
along with examples of social benefits related to families.
The focus is
on child protection in Norway, and the ideological basis
for changes influencing the services for children in need.
Key issues are:
(1) the shift from care to prevention, and,
(2) care and preventive strategies.
How is the child defined and understood in child protection
work related to ideology, legislation, practice and research?
On January 1st, 1997, there were 9,995,000 children and most
(79%) young people in Norway under the age of eighteen living
with their families (Samfunnsspeilet 1996), lived with both
parents, who were either married or living together. The percentage
of children living with both parents has decreased slightly
in the last years. Seventeen percent of children living with
one parent have their mother as the daily care person; only
2% live with just their father. Children are a focus in Norwegian
policy, and are given priority on an ideological as well as
on the practical level. The family policy in Norway can be
divided into three main areas:
BENEFITS FOR FAMILIES
Several welfare benefits of importance to children and their
families have been issues including :
- General, financial
support to all mothers having a child 16 years old or younger.
The support is given independent of income. Unmarried mothers
(or fathers) not living with the father or mother of the
child receive twice the general amount.
- Special financial
support to all unmarried mothers not living with the father
until the child is ten years old. There is, however, a proposal
by the Ministry to remove the support when the child is
four years old.
- Ten months
leave with full salary for all mothers with babies. The
father is entitled to take one month leave.
- Special tax
rules including tax deduction for families with children.
FREE OR SUBSIDIZED
SERVICES FOR FAMILIES AND CHILDREN
These services include :
- Free health
care and immunization,
- Free dentist,
- Free counseling
related to difficulties and problems with the child and
being a parent.
An aim of Norwegian
family policy is to strengthen the day care system for children.
The Ministry of Family's and Children's affairs has issued
several plans including increasing kindergartens, after school
activities, and school reforms. The ideology is that men and
women have equal rights to education and work. In most families,
both parents are working. There is political agreement that
this ideology cannot be fulfilled without external daily care
for all children. Furthermore, all children shall also have
equal rights to health care and education. Therefore, it is
free of charge.
There is a political
and professional discourse going on in Norway about small
children's daily life. Is it healthy for children to be in
settings other than the family for most of the day? All children
are, in a way, institutionalized, as the state is taking more
and more responsibility for them. The smallest children (3-6
years old) spend more than eight hours in kindergartens or
pre-schools five days a week. Elementary schools participate
in organized after school activities and children can remain
in school until picked up by parents in the afternoon. Most
children (and young people) spend their leisure time in organized
activities, consisting mostly of track and field and other
team sports. When they are at home, they watch television,
videos, or play with computers. Some are concerned about the
minimal time children spend together with families, and that
this might not be quality time, as the parents are worn out
after the daily stress of work. Others believe that this is
a normal life in post-modern society, and stress the importance
of safety and the learning outside the family.
REGULATING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE PARTIES
Two different laws regulate the relationship between family
members and other parties:
- The Children
and Parent Act (1981), and,
- The Child Protection
In 1995, 2.27%
of the around one million children and young people under
the age of 18 in Norway received child protection services.
Child protection authorities are responsible for children
up to 18 years of age, but they can be extended to age 20.
preventive and care services in child protection
In 1995, 21,100
Norwegian children received services from Child Protection
Authorities (Ukens Statistikk 1996); 16.050 received services
at home, mostly on a preventive and voluntary basis, and the
rest was taken into care. About 1.5% of children receiving
services were in special facilities. From 1995 to 1996 there
was an increase of 5% in children receiving preventive services,
and a decrease of
5% of those taken into care. The total number
of children receiving help is increasing.
is expected to work to help children remain with their parents.
Preventive work is often defined as work designed to prevent
drastic interventions such as removing children from their
families. Some children, however, have to be fostered or cared
for outside the home. Children in care usually stay in institutions
and foster homes. Institutions in Norway are very small with
two to eight children each. Institutions have always been
regarded as the last choice, and, are primarily places for
difficult adolescents. The more alternative for children has
been fosterhomes. Foster homes have been more specialized
to avoid institutionalization of children. These foster homes
have developed into substitutes for institutions with increasing
costs. Institutions and foster homes are very expensive; this
has led to a greater focus on preventive services.
There are also
other reasons for focusing on prevention. To belong to and
be part of a family is judged as the best alternative for
a child. Marginalization and stigma are to be avoided. The
Child Protection Legislation (1992) emphasized preventive
solutions as alternatives to removing the child from home.
This shift away
from care to prevention is one of the most distinct changes
in ideology and practice in child protection in Norway. Prevention
is, however, a diffuse concept. Most primary preventive efforts
designed to improve children's circumstances are not the direct
concern of child protection agencies, and child protection
has only a limited role in secondary prevention aimed at particular
vulnerable groups of children and young people. Prevention
for child protection is mostly tertiary preventive work targeting
particular children and their families. The main aim for child
protection agencies is to help children so that they can remain
with their families and avoid additional problems that might
lead to them going into care.
has to secure a balance between providing assistance to families
and making sure that they provide adequate care for children
and young people. Child protection also has to monitor care
in families that are helped by other agencies. Greater emphasis
on preventive work means that this often uneasy balance is
a pervasive feature of child protection work.
IN CHILD PROTECTION WORK
The 1992 Child Protection Act mentions a number of services
that can be used in prevention (4-4):
Child protection services should work to improve children's
circumstances and contribute to their development by providing
advice, supervision and services. When children's home circumstances
or other considerations require it, they should provide services
for the child and family; for example, by recruiting assistants
from the community, finding nursery school or family; for
example, by recruiting assistants from the community, finding
nursery school or kindergarten places, or by providing help
in the home. Child protection should also work to stimulate
children's leisure activities and ensure that children and
young people are provided with appropriate schooling and work
opportunities, or a place to live outside the home if that
is needed. Child protection can, if necessary, monitor the
situation in the home by appointing a supervisor/visitor.
Financial assistance can also be provided where this is of
benefit to the child.
The act requires
that plans be made for each child. These should be made for
specific periods of time, provide a basis for evaluation or
review, specify how the child and family are to be followed
up, and include specific aims. Children, young people, and
their parents should, to the greatest extent possible, contribute
toward this planning.
and preventive services will be illustrated with reference
to the county of Sor-Trondelag. This county is quite representative
of Norway as a whole. There are about 260,000 people living
in the county, which consists of one city, Trondheim, and
24 smaller municipalities.
PREVENTIVE SERVICES FOR ALL FAMILIES
A range of traditional services are offered mostly on a voluntary
basis. Many are targeted directly to the child. Even if they
are defined as tertiary prevention, families accept these
kinds of help, and some are viewed as social benefits more
than intruding interventions or control. Child protection
represents a helping hand, and is not a danger to the family.
But, these interventions must balance between service and
control. If there is not progress in the child's situation
or development, stronger interventions can be suggested, for
example, to take the child away from the family. The more
traditional control intervention are also available on a voluntary
ADVICE is addressed
to needs of children, parents, siblings, and other involved
parties and aims to find solutions to problems. It is important
to enhance the parties' understanding of each others' roles
and expectations, improve communication between them, and
so reduce the chaos that can often surround poorly functioning
families. The emphasis is on providing advice in an everyday
and natural context.
is usually provided for parents who need to provide a more
predictable and less conflict-ridden setting for their children.
The problems addressed usually have to do with the relationship
between the parents which affects children.
can be provided to families to supplement income and to obtain
particular benefits for children. Support is given in the
form of purchases of clothing, equipment for sports and pastimes,
other necessary equipment, membership fees, and so forth.
THE HOME is provided for families that have difficulty in
managing. Home consultants work to improve parental performance
and competence. The target group are multiproblem families
that have difficulty in caring for their children, and who
do not easily respond to other approaches.
non-professional persons appointed and paid by child protection
to help a particular child or a group. The aim is to assist
children by broadening their horizons, strengthening their
self-confidence, and engaging them in activities that would
not otherwise be feasible. The average amount of help provided
is four hours weekly, and all children up to 18 years of age
can receive this form of support.
WEEKEND HOME OR
RESPITE provides children and parents with a rest from stress
resulting from poor care, illness, unemployment, separation,
divorce, behavioral problems, and other causes. Weekend homes
are provided by families with the necessary skills and resources
to deal with a particular family and child. The aim is to
provide a stabilizing influence. This service is used with
children and young people of all ages, and concerning a variety
of problems. Child protection provides the coordination and
is responsible for financing the service. Service usually
takes the form of a weekend retreat for the child once a month.
is often provided for small children with behavioral difficulties,
learning difficulties, physical handicaps, or those not receiving
adequate care at home. The aim is to provide stimulus, social
training, and self-confidence. Kindergarten can also help
to provide a stable social setting for the child. Kindergarten
can be provided for children up to seven years of age. There
is both local authority and private provision.
HELP WITH HOMEWORK
is provided for families in which parents are unable to create
a positive learning situation for the child. Tutoring is provided
for children from 7-16 years of age, and is fully financed
by child protection.
A SUPERVISOR OR
VISITOR is appointed to keep an eye on the home, and is often
in combination with other services. He/she can visit the home
at any time. This service is often used in situations where
child welfare believes the child lives in a marginal situation.
Distribution child protection services used in Saupstad, Trondheim
Figure 2 illustrates the distribution of preventive services
in a local office of Trondheim. Financial aid, assistants,
and kindergarten are frequent preventive strategies.
SERVICES: FAMILY AS FOCUS OF INTERVENTION
More recent preventive services have a different philosophical
basis than the traditional ones. The family is the main unit
for intervention, and the prevention is suggested to start
at the lowest possible level, preferentially as primary prevention.
Some examples include:
For example, the
Ministry of Child and Family Affairs and the Ministry of Social
Affairs have initiated a large Family Guidance project whose
aim is to reinforce and strengthen the parental role by supporting
and giving back to parents in their role in the upbringing
of children and providing care. Parents are addressed using
material that covers various aspects of being a parent and
how problems can be approached. There is provision for guidance
and practical assistance in setting where parents and children
are accessible such as health centers, kindergartens, and
schools. This guidance will preferably be offered to groups.
Regional supervisors have been trained and will in turn train
key-persons in local authorities who will lead multi-professional
groups working with families in the community. The project
is partly financed from central sources, but local authorities
will have to contribute. They are also expected to integrate
guidance into their normal activity. The project is aimed
at families with children in general, but there is a clear
preventive intention. There is considerable uncertainty about
how much responsibility central authorities will assume, since
the funding that has been made available is short-term.
One visible shift
in ideology and practice in child protection was a drive away
from care to prevention. Another shift is toward new methods
in preventive work focusing on the relationship and communication
between the child and the family. This also means a shift
to more intruding perspectives and increasing control.
has been increasingly aware of preventive methods that can
enhance parents' competence in their relationship with the
child. This is rooted in the philosophy that the child and
the parents are a system within which relationships are of
decisive importance in their influence on children's development
and adjustment (Ovreeide, 1996). Future difficulties can be
minimized or avoided by enhancing parents' competence and
understanding in their interaction with the child.
is the foundation of all human relations and not least in
the relation between the child and the parents. Good interaction
between parents and child is a unique learning arena and opportunity,
and the quality of this relation will give the child a more
or less appropriate basic competence in forming relationships
with others. The quality of the parent-child relationship
is of decisive importance for the child.
as well as more permanent service provision have been established
and financed by local authorities. Health centers usually
refer children, and this will often not involve child protection
at all. The work has preventive aims and depends on voluntary
participation on the part of parents. No order or official
decision forces parents to take part. Nevertheless, an implied
threat of child protection's involvement is often present.
The most usual
setting is the kindergarten. The practical arrangements can,
for example, involve the establishment of a group of parents
(usually mothers) who have difficulty with providing care
for their children, and who are seen as being a risk in terms
of potential neglect and/or child abuse. Mothers are referred
as soon as possible after the birth of the child so that unfavorable
development can be avoided. In Norway maternity clinics and
health centers usually encounter at risk mothers first. Health
centers are the main source of referrals to the mothers' groups.
The mothers meet
during the daytime three to four times per week, with their
children. The size of the groups varies, but is usually between
four and eight families. Two kindergarten teachers are usually
in charge of the group. The content varies, but a common element
is observation of mother and child together to provide a.
basis for advice and instruction about interaction given to
the mother. This advice is designed to give a mother a better
understanding and knowledge of the child's needs. The starting
point is positive and supports established elements in the
relationship between mother and child. The staff presents
themselves as models for the mother, and act in accordance
with the premises upon which the method is built. One aim
is that mothers will assimilate the knowledge and understanding
acquired in the group so that they will relate to the child
in competency ways in other settings as well. Work in the
groups also includes practical activities that have an educational
purpose: dressing and bathing babies, preparing food, massage,
going for walks, and so on. Many of the mothers are alone
with their children and lack social contacts. They have little
formal schooling. If unable to add to this, they will have
poor prospects in the job market. An aim for work in the groups
to build up the mothers' self-confidence so that they can
establish themselves in social contexts, both with and without
Family First removes
the risk, not the child, which indicates the basic aim for
work with families in crisis using the Family First approach.
This originated in the USA, but has also become established
in Norway. An extensive trial is being set up in Trondheim.
Social workers are trained to intervene in families experiencing
crises. Where there is a considerable risk that children will
have to be removed from the home. Social workers enter the
homes and the families, involve themselves, and work very
closely with all the family members. The work includes giving
intensive support, encouragement, training family members
in problem solving, and making contacts with external agencies.
The goal is to help the family over the critical period and
the precarious situation, stabilize them, and provide a basis
for the child to stay in the family. The intensive contact
with the family can involve many hours per week and can last
from four to six weeks. Each social worker will only have
two families to work with at any one time. Trials have only
just commenced, and there has been no evaluation.
HOME START is
another method for intervention in young families when mothers
are immature, inexperienced, and without a family network.
Voluntary workers, often themselves young mothers, enter the
family and offer help. They are not professional social workers,
but are provided with some professional and financial support
from child protection. The voluntary workers help with practical
problems, with cooking, take the children out, do the shopping,
and so on. An important aim is that the mother in the family
should be able to manage her daily life, ans so acquire better
motivation and energy to relate to her children and life outside
Provision of broadly preventive services in child protection
is a long-established trend in Norway. More services are provided
to children at risk while they live at home, and the numbers
of children in care and not living at home have remained much
the same for two decades.
There are a number
of traditional preventive devices that provide assistance
for the family. These are being supplemented by newer approaches
that emphasize improving interaction between parents an very
young children, or intensive support provided in the home.
Other innovations are services for mothers in groups and for
young people. The newer services are mainly aimed at vulnerable
mothers and the mother-child relationship. There has been
shift toward promoting and strengthening the family in social
policy as a whole, and an assertion that the family must assume
more responsibility for upbringing and moral education of
the young. Vulnerable and poorly functioning families benefit
from this since child protection and other services try to
preserve the integrity of families whose care of their children
Changes in the
law and large amounts of funding injected into child protection
in the early 1990's has contributed to the continuing expansion
of preventive services. There are some instiutional limitations
that have to be overcome. With a dispersed population and
generally small local authorities, innovation and intensive
services tend to be dependent on local professional initiative.
Thus, both the qualtiy and the scope of provision are uneven.
The Ministries' Family Guidance Programme tries to compensate
for this, but it is not clear at present how such an ambitious
program can be financed. There is a lack of emphasis on evaluation
in which both traditional and innovatory approaches would
benefit from more systematic evaluation.
The new preventive
services have relatively high costs, and there may be limits
to local authorities' capacity to fund innovation. Standards
vary widely already, and it is hard to see how this can be
of preventive work has been one of a number of factors tending
to make child protection more dependent upon cooperation.
It faces ever-increasing commitment linked to its role as
coordinator and monitor. Mandatory requirements (plans and
reviews) have led to a great deal of follow-up work for child
protection staff. Our research in Trondheim indicates that
follow-up of children and families receiving service accouints
for about 70% of all child protection work devoted to clients.
Setting-up, co-ordination, and follow-up of preventive services
alone represents about half of the total workload in local
authority child prtection. There may be difficulties ahead
if we are to continue offering preventive sevices to a relatively
broad range of children and families. On the other hand, the
extra funding made available in the 1980's has contributed
to continued growth of preventive work, even though demand
for child prtection services, in the form of reports of children
risk, has been at a hight level.
OUT OF HOME
The child protection act provides that the following conditions
can lead to a child coming into public care, (4-12):
- The daily care
situation is far from sufficient, and the child is not given
contact and safety needed according to age and developmental
- The parents
do not secure medical help and training for sick or handicapped
- The child is
exposed to neglect or abuse.
- The child's
health and development is in danger in the future because
of incompetence of the parents
The act mentions
three alternative placements for children in out of home care
- Foster homes
- Special facilities
for handicapped children
residential homes, and institutions,are administered by a
county office. This office also has the duty to help local
authorities to find the best placement alternative for the
child. The Ministry monitors the institutions.
Out of home interventions in the county of Sor-Trondelag 1996
Figure 3 shows
the distribution of children in out-of-home care in one area
of Trondheim; 346 children were in forsterhomes in Sor-Trondelag.
Of the 72 available places in institutions, nine are for children
under twelve years old, nine are for families (mostly mothers
and children), and 54 are for adolescents 13-18 years of age.
Fosterhomes are thus the most common out of home intervention
for small children, and residential homes are mostly a service
for young people.
More and more
families with small children are having difficulties meeting
their obligations to their children. There is increased need
for crisis intervention and immediate help, as well as to
keep mother and child together. Young people in need of care
are coming into care at another age, particularly young people
having received preventive services from local authorities,
or who are abusers. More young people from families where
material conditions in the homes are satisfactory, but the
social and psychological conditions are damaging, which are
also coming into case.
for small children and adolescents differ. New born babies
are rarely removed from their parents if there is a chance
of improvement. There are care facilities to keep the mother
and the baby together. Work with these mothers is based on
learning and communication principles. Clinical procedures
are used to measure the mother's communicative skills and
competence. The child and the mother are viewed and treated
as a unit. Children up to twelve years of age are mostly in
fosterhomes and not in residential care, but some are evaluated
as not suitable for foster homes. These children often have
behavioral and social problems, and have difficulties in relating
to peers. For older children the traditional milieu therapy
is still the basis for treatment and care. There is disagreement
about whether the main focus in residential homes shall be
on care or psychiatric and psychological
protection is afraid of taking responsibility for even more
of the tasks of the child psychiatric system. However, specialization
in child care is steadily increasing.
THE CHILD IN
There are several issues with particular interests to children
in Norwegian Policy.
Norway was the
first country in the world to create an ombudsman for children
in 1981. The intention of the ombudsman was to be an independent
spokesman for children, and to not be obliged by any governmental
or other officials' viewpoints or priorities. The children
themselves could contact the ombudsman's office, tell about
worries or problems, get advice, and be directed to proper
services. Children use the office. The first years after opening,
only a few hundred children called. Today the number is between
two and three thousands a year. The ombudsman also takes steps
to intervene in matters he/she believes are important to children.
the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. The
U.N. Convention clearly states that children have to be viewed
as individual subjects. As Verhellen (1995) says, "children
were no longer regarded as beings who are not yet adults but
as fully-fledged individuals with their own meaning. The Convention
led to the first faltering steps toward recognizing children
as human beings," (p. 15). This is the third ideological
shift - the transition into understanding the child as a subject
with own individual rights, someone that is not the property
of someone else.
importance to child protection, Article 12 in the U.N. Convention
gives the child the right to express their views in matters
involving them. According to The Norwegian Child Protection
Act (1992), young persons twelve years and older always had
this right. Further, the young persons' views and wishes shall
be emphasized. If the child is younger than twelve, it shall
be informed of actions of the child protection authorities,
and shall have a say. This depends of course on the nature
and the severity of the case, and if the child is old enough
to understanding it.
The child is considered
an active participant in the decision process about its life.
Of course, this is not easy to fulfill at all times. Research
at the Center (Tjelflaat, 1997) shows that there are several
obstacles to be overcome at the practical level:
- The child has
difficulty in grasping the situation. The child often has
to master several crises at a time, and has to relate to
something that seems very unclear and unsecured.
- There are relational
problems between the child and the social worker. Some social
workers have difficulty talking with children and particularly
children in painful situations. The result can be lack of
action on the part of social worker.
- Cases are handled
in a hurry, with little time to involve the child.
We are investigating
how social workers view the child in the child protection
work. Social workers state a child-oriented approach in their
thinking. Examples of quotations include:
- The child is
the principal employer of the child protection authorities.
- The child is
the most important individual person in the case.
- The child is
- The focus has
to be kept on the child.
- The child and
the family has to be understood as one unit.
- The child has
to be understood as a subject in a contextual frame.
We have just started
to look at some of the social workers case records, supplemented
by interviews related to every case to study the kind of child-orientation
that appears in practice. Preliminary results show a gap between
findings in the cases and the ideology. In several cases,
the child is not considered as an individual at all. It is
the family's situation and the parents' competence in raising
children that is the focus. The child is viewed as an object,
a victim of dangerous circumstances, and prognoses are made
on the basis of theory about children's development and needs
more than what the particular child concerned needs. The child
is often not really present in the case. Other studies also
show that the child is seldom spoken with in the child protection
process (Clausen 1997, Tjelflaat 1996).
There is a lack
of methods in child protection work about how to handle the
individual child in practice. Many social workers have barriers
to speaking with children, and particularly small children.
Traditional communication tools in social work are not sufficient.
Social workers are not sufficiently trained to make observations
of the child and to judge the child's development. It is easier
to relate to the parents and other adults.
theory and clinical methodology is reflected in the new methods.
One criticism directed at this type of preventive work, is
that it is too focused on the parent-child relationship, and
tends to divert attention from the larger social context of
mother and child. Mother and child may need support in more
areas if mothers are to apply the knowledge and understanding
gained in the group, in their everyday life, and situation.
Even the mother has learned to understand her child's crying
in a different way. This is hardly a guarantee that she will
be able to deal with it better in a small flat, alone, short
of money, and with several children to care for. Stress in
such a situation may lead to abuse, although the mother understands
the principles of interaction with her child. Another criticism
is that there has been too little evaluation and follow-up
of the mothers. We do not know enough about the extent to
which they actually do assimilate knowledge so that it can
become a natural part of their self-expression. Nor do we
know whether mothers may need occasional refresher courses
if the treatment is to maintain its effect.
The main political family ideology in Norway is based on the
principle of keeping the families together. This refers to
ordinary families as well as to families in difficult situations
who care to the attention of child protection.
However, the state
is taking more and more responsibility for children, and the
time families spend together is decreasing. Some say that
Norwegian children are institutionalized and spend most of
their day on public arenas.
In child protection,
there is also a profound ideology of keeping families together,
and to avoid removing the child from its home. Therefore,
preventive strategies have to be tried before moving the child.
New methods in
the preventive work are focusing on prevention at the lowest
level possible. Preventive strategies can be divided into
two main areas. The traditional, where more service focused
methods are directed to the child and conditions of the family.
New methods focus on the child and the family as a unit and
try to enhance the competence and communicative skills of
It is difficult
to find a child-orientation in child protection work. Even
as social workers at the ideological level claim that the
child perspective is of decisive importance.
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