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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

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Summary

​Background and objectives of the investigation

Children and young people living under conditions that can damage their health and development, must receive the required help and care at the right time. Good child welfare is important, both for the individual and for society. If a child is in a vulnerable situation and needs immediate help, child welfare services have the right and obligation to intervene. Often this comes by way of a temporary emergency decision to place the child outside the home, also called emergency placements. The municipal Child Welfare Service determines whether a child should be subject to an emergency placement. In accordance with the law on child welfare services (the Child Welfare Act), Bufetat (Barne-, ungdoms- og familieetaten — the Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs) has an obligation to assist municipal child welfare services with the out-of-home placements for children. This obligation applies when the municipality has requested such assistance, after having investigated placement options within the child's own family or network. This investigation covers the period 2014–2017.

The goal of the audit has been to evaluate the degree to which Bufetat complies with this obligation to municipalities in emergency situations in accordance with the best interests of the children and with parliamentary decisions.

Findings

There are different interpretations of the regulations concerning the assistance provided by Bufetat to the municipal Child Welfare Service (assistance obligation)

The current regulations for emergency placements are interpreted differently: Within the individual Bufetat regions, between Bufetat regions and between the municipal Child Welfare Service and Bufetat. This can lead to different expectations between the parties as to what the obligation to assist means, and when it is fulfilled by Bufetat. Different interpretations of the regulations lead to adverse consequences for the children subject to emergency placements.

The municipal Child Welfare Services do not always have the final say in choosing which measures to take for children undergoing emergency placement, which the law requires

A good range of emergency measures for individual children requires good cooperation between the municipal Child Welfare Services, who know the child's needs, and Bufetat, which offers the measures. A lack of available measures at Bufetat means that the municipal Child Welfare Services do not always get the final say in the choice of emergency measures, which the law requires. In the absence of alternatives, the municipal Child Welfare Service approves measures that they consider to be inadequate for the child's needs.

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

Bufetat cannot offer all children customised emergency services

In some cases, Bufetat offers measures which are not customised to the child's needs; measures which may be far from the child's place of residence, and measures that are not in line with the municipal Child Welfare Services’ assessment of the child's needs. This violates the overall principle of the Child Welfare Act, that the best interests of the child shall be of decisive importance.

Recommendations

The Office of the Auditor General recommends that the Ministry of Children and Equality:

  • Ensures that all children who are subject to emergency placement receive services from Bufetat in accordance with the general principle of the law that the best interests of the child are to be of decisive importance.
  • Ensures that children receive an equal quality of emergency services regardless of where they live.
  • Explain to Bufetat what the obligation to assist in emergency placements involves and when this obligation is deemed to have been complied with. The Ministry must ensure that the directorate follows this up with the parties involved in child welfare.
Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 6835 St. Olavs plass, 0130 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843