Role and structure of the Norwegian child welfare services

Parents are responsible for providing care and protection for their children. However, if the parents are unable to do so, the Child Welfare Services is obliged by law to provide whatever help necessary to ensure that children and adolescents receive the care they need.

The Child Welfare Services (CWS) in each municipality provides help and support to children, adolescents and parents who are experiencing challenges or difficulties within the family. The CWS may also get involved if a child needs help for other reasons, such as behavioral issues connected to drugs or alcohol. 

Help for children at risk

The main goal is to ensure that children and adolescents who are living under conditions that represent a risk to their health and/or development receive the help they need when they need it, and to contribute to children and adolescents growing up in safe, secure and caring conditions.

Most children receiving assistance from the CWS remain with their family while the family receive home-based assistance. In more serious cases the CWS will consider more intrusive measures. This applies to neglect, violence and abuse. Violence against children is illegal in Norway. This applies to all forms of violence including corporal punishment and use of physical violence in child rearing.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights are incorporated into Norwegian law. The rights of children are also enshrined in Article 104 of the Norwegian constitution. The article states that “children have the right to protection of their personal integrity. The authorities of the State shall create conditions that facilitate the child’s development, including ensuring that the child is provided with the necessary economic, social and health security, preferably within their own family.”

Norway has its own Children Act and a Child Welfare Act. The Child Welfare Act regulates the work done by the Child Welfare Services in Norway, as well as the measures available to assist children in need of protection.

Main priciples

In Norway, child protection policies and regulations rely on three main principles:

The best interests of the child

The best interests of the child is a fundamental consideration in actions and decisions that affect children. The Child Welfare Services must base its actions on the best interests of the child. In cases where the child’s best interests conflict with those of the parents, the child’s rights must take precedence.

According to the Norwegian Child Welfare Act a child has the right to be heard and to participate in decisions and actions that affect them and to have those views taken into consideration. To make sure a child is heard and able to participate falls under the responsibility of the Child Welfare Services.

The biological principle

The biological principle underlines the importance of family ties. This means that the state has a duty to facilitate the child’s development, preferably within its own family.

The principle of ‘the least intrusive’ form of intervention.

When there is a concern for the wellbeing of a child, the least intrusive form of intervention shall be implemented. The child may be placed out of the home only as a last resort and when homebased assistance has proved to be insufficient.

Structure of the child welfare services

Ministry of Children and Families 

The Ministry of Children and Families is responsible for the administration of The Child Care Law and the Child Welfare Act and ensures that laws and regulations are correctly applied. The Ministry does not rule on appeals in individual cases 

Read more about the Ministry of Children and Families

Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir). 

Bufdir is a body under the ministry. Bufdir is responsible for: 

  • interpreting the law 
  • ordering and administrating research and development to make sure Norwegian policies on child welfare are based on recent research from academia and knowledge from the professional community 
  • international cooperation in child welfare cases across national borders 

Read more about Bufdir and Bufetat

The Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufetat) 

Bufetat consists of five regional child protection agencies, Bufetat is responsible for: 

  • establishing and running RCCIs 
  • assisting Municipal Child Welfare Services in out-of-home placements 
  • assisting local authorities in recruiting and administering foster homes 
  • ensure foster homes receive relevant training and guidance 

Read more about Bufdir and Bufetat

County Social Welfare Boards (fylkesnemd) 

There are 12 County Social Welfare Boards responsible for hearing cases involving child protection in Norway’s 19 counties. The boards are a state body and serve as an impartial and independent tribunal. Each board covers 1 or 2 counties. The boards are not a part of the municipal government at the local level. They never initiate a case but are responsible for making a ruling.

Read more about the County Social Welfare Boards (english)

County Governor (fylkesmann) 

The County Governor is responsible for: 

  • supervision of the Child Welfare Services  
  • dealing with complaints about the Child Welfare Services’ case processing, and determining whether the Service has complied with the Child Welfare Act and the Public Administration Act 
  • supervising that children in child protection institutions receive the required standard of care and treatment.  

Read more about the County Governor (english)

Municipal Child Welfare Service  

All municipalities or inter-municipalities must have a Child Welfare Service that performs the day-to-day tasks required by the Child Welfare Act. The Service is responsible for: 

  • Child welfare cases and performing investigations [Child Welfare Act § 4-3].  
  • Home-based assistance 
  • Child Welfare Emergency Unit / barnevernvakt 
  • Out-of-home placements   
  • Monitoring out-of-home placements 
  • Approval of foster homes