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Emergency child welfare placements: “It is a serious matter that certain children receive services which are not adapted to their needs.”

​Good emergency services for individual children require effective cooperation between the municipal child welfare services and Bufetat (Barne-, ungdoms- og familieetaten — the Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs). The Child Welfare Services know the child's needs and Bufetat offers emergency housing and places in institutions. A lack of available measures at Bufetat means that in some cases children do not receive services which are adapted to them. “Having to move a long way from home is rarely in accordance with the child's needs”, says Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss.

Published 4/5/2018 1:00 PM

​Document 3:8 (2017-2018) The Office of the Auditor General’s investigation into the Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs and its obligation to assist with emergency child welfare placements, was submitted to the Storting on 5th April 2018.

Bufetat emergency services are not designed so that it is always possible to offer children services which comply with the Child Welfare Services’ assessment of needs. The consequences of too little capacity is that some children are placed in acute institutions even if the assessment concludes a need for emergency housing, and some children are placed in emergency housing far away from home.

“This violates the overall principle of the Child Welfare Act, that the best interests of the child shall be of decisive importance”, Foss says.

The municipal child welfare services must have the final say in the selection of measures for children subject to emergency placement. In the absence of alternatives, the municipal Child Welfare Service approves measures that they consider to be inadequate for the child's needs.

“It is a serious matter that child welfare services find themselves in a situation where they, in the absence of alternatives, accept measures which they believe are not in accordance with the child's needs”, says Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss.

Different interpretations of regulations

Bufetat is obliged to assist municipal Child Welfare Services with out-of-home placements for children. This obligation to assist applies when the municipality has asked Bufetat for help.

The current regulations for emergency placements are interpreted differently: within individual Bufetat regions, between Bufetat regions and between municipal Child Welfare Services and Bufetat. There are different perceptions of what the obligation to assist involves when Bufetat provides emergency services to municipal Child Welfare Services, or whether this obligation has been complied with when municipal Child Welfare Services approve Bufetat's measures.

“Different interpretations of the regulations can lead to adverse consequences for the children. It is a serious matter that the Ministry of Children and Equality has not ensured that the current regulations are interpreted in the same way”, Foss says.

The emergency measures available vary according to the child's region

There is great variation between the Bufetat regions with regard to the scope of emergency services, how the regulations are applied and the use of private foster homes. Central Norway has far fewer emergency homes than other regions. Among other things, children who have been assessed by Child Welfare Services to require emergency housing are more frequently offered a place in an institution than occurs in other regions.

The target is for all emergency placements to be covered by government services in order to achieve adequate quality assurance. In Eastern Norway, Bufetat offers private solutions to a far greater extent than in the other regions.

“It is a serious matter that regional differences affect the services that vulnerable children receive. The Ministry of Children and Equality must ensure that children receive an equal quality of emergency services regardless of where they live”, says Auditor General Foss.

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