The objective of child welfare is to ensure that children growing up in Norway, under conditions that can damage their health and development, receive the help and care they require.
Dalan’s child welfare lawyers have vast experience of child welfare cases. We frequently provide support in the early stages with the aim of preventing a child welfare case from escalating unnecessarily. In cases where, out of consideration for the child, there is a need for follow-up by the child welfare authorities, we ensure that they act in accordance with the rules. Each person has the right to the support of a lawyer at every stage of a case involving the childcare authorities.
CHILD WELFARE ACT
The responsibility and tasks of the childcare authorities are governed by the Child Welfare Act.
- The biological principle
The basis of the Child Welfare Act is the biological principle that states it is in the child’s best interests to grow up with its parents.
- Minimal intervention principle
The Child Welfare Act builds on the principle that the authorities cannot implement stricter measures than necessary. They must always choose the course of action which represents minimal intervention in the lives of the parents.
NOTE OF CONCERN
A child welfare case normally begins when the child welfare centre receives a note of concern, which they are then bound to investigate. This duty is laid down in Section 4-2 of the Child Welfare Act.
Anyone concerned for the welfare of a child can send a note of concern to the child welfare authorities. A private person sending a note of concern can choose to remain anonymous. On the other hand, it is not possible for public notifiers to remain anonymous.
Public bodies concerned about a child have a duty to notify when they have grounds for believing that the child is subject to abuse, other forms of serious neglect, or when a child over time has shown serious behavioural problems.
DUTY TO INVESTIGATE
When the childcare authorities receive a note of concern, they need to consider whether the note does provide grounds for genuine unease. Pursuant to Section 4-3, first paragraph, of the Child Welfare Act, if the circumstances provide grounds necessitating measures be taken by the childcare authorities, then they must investigate the matter forthwith. If the authorities believe there are grounds for examining the child’s situation, they have a duty to launch an investigation.
When deliberating whether to initiate an investigation, the need to take consider people’s right to privacy, and the need to examine the situation of one or more children, must be weighed against each other. It is clear from the legislative background of the Act that it is important not to allow consideration of people’s right to privacy to prevent a child from obtaining the necessary assistance from the childcare authorities.
- Is the concern genuine?
Unfortunately, the childcare authorities do from time to time receive notes of concern that do not provide grounds for genuine unease about a child, but which are sent in order to cause trouble for the parents. When it is discovered that a notification in reality is nothing more than harassment and not expressive of real concern for a child, the authorities shall dismiss the notification without taking any steps.
- Time limits
The childcare authorities must, within a week of receiving a note of concern, consider whether they should establish a case in order to examine the notification more closely, or whether it is evident that there are no grounds for concern.
As a rule, the authorities shall not spend more than three months investigating a note of concern, although this time limit can be extended by another three months if an extension is warranted by a particular set of circumstances. In practice, we do tend to find that many investigative matters are extended and they may last from three and up to six months.
- How to investigate?
It is the child welfare service which decides how a case is to be investigated. The legislative background of the Child Welfare Act makes it clear that steps must be taken to ensure that the child welfare service proceeds as carefully as the gravity of the case permits.
- Stages of an investigation
The child welfare service normally launches an investigation by contacting the parents and reviewing the note of concern with them. The officers of the service frequently wish come to the home and collect information from relevant bodies such as the school, kindergarten, health service and police. They may also choose to speak directly with the child.
The rule is that the parents shall agree to a home visit in advance. They shall be given the opportunity to approve the retrieval of confidential information and they shall be informed that the childcare officers wish to speak with the child. The childcare authorities are, however, not dependent on obtaining the approval of the parents and they may come on an unannounced home visit and retrieve confidential information even though the parents are not notified or approve of this beforehand. But this is conditional on the gravity of the situation, indicating that concern for the parents’ privacy must yield to the need to clarify the cause of concern for the child. We find that it is not always the case that sufficient thought is given to how extensive the investigation must be, out of consideration for the child.
The child has the right to be accompanied by a support person when interviewed by the childcare authorities. The parents have the same right to a support person, which may be a lawyer.
FOUR POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF A CHILD WELFARE CASE
An investigative case can result in four possible outcomes:
1. The case is dismissed and concluded without the implementation of any measures
When the child welfare service deems that there are no grounds for taking steps pursuant to the Child Welfare Act, the note of concern is shelved and the case closed.
2. The child welfare service implements remedial measures
If the child welfare service considers that there is a need, due to conditions in the home or for other reasons, it will implement remedial measures pursuant to Section 4-4 of the Child Welfare Act.
These measures may take the form of parental guidance, and consultative meetings with the parents, school and support team, or other measures involving support persons, foster home etc.
As these measures are implemented, an action plan shall be prepared, with targets and a time limit set for each measure. The child welfare service must constantly consider whether a measure is appropriate, whether it should be terminated, or whether it should be replaced by a different measure.
3. The case is dismissed because the parents refuse to participate in the voluntary measures and there is no legal basis for implementing coercive measures
Remedial measures are implemented on the condition that the parents approve of them. If this is not the case, the childcare authorities must assess whether there are grounds for coercive measures pursuant to the Child Welfare Act. If there are no grounds to justify these, then the authorities must dismiss the note of concern and close the case.
4. Implementation of coercive measures
If the childcare authorities discover that there is a serious lack of proper care for the child in the home, they can present the case to the county social welfare board with the intention of assuming responsibility for the care of the child pursuant to Section 4-12 of the Child Welfare Act.
A care order decision is made if it is deemed necessary, which means that coercive measures shall not be employed if a satisfactory outcome for the child may be achieved by means of remedial measures pursuant to Section 4-4 of the Child Welfare Act.
If the child welfare service intends to argue for the implementation of coercive measures, the parents have a right to be represented by lawyer whose fees are covered by legal aid.