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The Office of the Auditor General's investigation of case processing in county social welfare boards

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Summary

Background and objective of the audit

The objective of the Child Welfare Act is to ensure that children and adolescents living under conditions that can harm their health and development receive the necessary help and care at the right time. The Act is intended to help provide a safe formative environment for children and adolescents. The primary task of county social welfare boards is to process cases and make enforcement-related decisions pursuant to the Act. Case processing times in the county social welfare boards have exceeded the statutory requirements for many years. This has major consequences for children, the affected families and the work of the child welfare service.

The aim of the audit was to evaluate the processing times and productivity of the county social welfare boards, and to examine the reasons for the long processing times.

Findings and recommendations

The processing time for ordinary cases is not in compliance with the key requirements of the Child Welfare Act

  • Negotiation meetings must be held promptly, if possible 28 days after the case was received by the county social welfare board. From 2010 to 2014, the average processing time increased from 75 to 89 days.
    In 2010–2014 no county boards were close to meeting the legal requirements. Wide variations in individual boards and between boards were noted during the audit period. 
  • In 2014, nearly 30 per cent of ordinary cases with negotiation meetings had a total processing time of more than 16 weeks. Faster processing by the county social welfare boards will reduce the burden on children and their families. By law, a negotiation meeting must held immediately, if possible within 28 days. This requirement, coupled with the stipulation that decisions must be made within two weeks, dictates that a case should be processed in just over six weeks. The percentage of cases processed within six weeks fell during the period. Meanwhile, the percentage of cases that take more than 16 weeks was significantly higher in 2014 than in 2010.
  • The number of cases where county social welfare boards made decisions increased by about 30 per cent from 2010 to 2014.

While the county social welfare boards have become more productive, they still have the potential to process more cases

The county social welfare boards made better use of resources during the period, and the differences between the boards has narrowed. Nevertheless, it is still possible to increase the production of some boards.

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) recommends that the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, in collaboration with the National Office for Social Welfare Boards, facilitate greater attention to Child Welfare Act provisions for simplified proceedings among county social welfare board chairs, and assess whether there is a need for improved guidance and training in this context.

There are weaknesses in the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion's management and follow-up of the National Office for Social Welfare Boards

The audit shows that the Ministry's management and follow-up is focused on case processing times, which nevertheless far exceed the legal requirements.

The OAG recommends that the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, in partnership with the National Office,

  • take the initiative to clarify which measures must be implemented to enable county social welfare boards to view the statutory time requirements for processing of the ordinary cases as realistic and binding
  • that the county social welfare boards receive a new and improved case management system as soon as possible

The National Office for Social Welfare Boards has improved the management of the county social welfare boards, but there is still potential for improvement

Among other things, the National Office has also improved the management and exchange of experience in the county social welfare boards, but has failed to equalise the differences in processing times. The differences increased during the period, and in 2014 the processing time varied among the boards by 49 days.

The OAG recommends that the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, in partnership with the National Office, continue to develop instruments for exchanging resources to reduce the wide differences in processing times among the county social welfare boards. This should be a particularly important task for the National Office.

Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 8130 Dep, 0032 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843