Stages in a child welfare case

Note of Concern

The Child Welfare Services receives notes of concern about a child’s welfare from members of the public, teachers, health care professionals and the police - among others.

When the Child Welfare Services receive a note of concern regarding a child, it shall, within one week at the latest, examine the concern and assess whether the case needs to be followed up by an investigation.

In order to meet the criteria for an investigation there has to be a reasonable cause to believe that the child is in need of a form of child welfare assistance. This means there is a low threshold to begin an investigation in Norway.

If there is an immediate risk that a child will suffer physical harm by remaining at home or a child is left without care, the head of the Child Welfare Services in the municipality or the prosecuting authority, may issue an emergency order without the consent of the parents.

Investigation

An investigation shall be carried out as soon as possible and within three months at the latest. Under certain circumstances the time limit may be extended by up to six months.

The purpose of the investigation is to gain information about the child and the child`s situation. The Child Welfare Services will gather necessary information in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not measures for the protection of the child are necessary.

Meeting with the parents

The parents of the child will be asked to attend a meeting at the Child Welfare Services’ offices or at the home. When the parents meet with the Child Welfare Service, they are given information about the note of concern.

Contact with others who know the family

The Child Welfare Services will often also contact others who know the child and the family, for example the local health center, kindergarten, school, etc. Experts (appointed psychologists by the CWS) may also be engaged to assess the child and the family.

An investigation is completed when the Child Welfare Services have made a decision to implement measures or have decided to close the case.

Homebased assistance

If the Child Welfare Services finds that the child is in particular need of assistance, due to conditions at home or for other reasons, it shall initiate measures to assist the child and the family. The aim of such measures is to ensure sound living conditions for the child.

Such assistance can for example be

  • appointing a personal support contact
  • ensuring that the child is placed in kindergarten
  • financial support for activities for the child
  • advice and guidance to the parents

The majority of those who receive help and support from the Child Welfare Services in Norway receive homebased assistance so that the child can remain in the home.

Compulsory assistance measures can be issued when it is considered necessary, and voluntary assistance measures have not succeeded. It is the County Social Welfare Board that decides if compulsory assistance measures can be imposed. 

Family group conference

Traditionally it is the Child Welfare Services that decides in child welfare cases, with the family then being presented with a solution determined in advance. However, with a family group conference the involvement of aunts, uncles, grandparents and other adults who know the child is mobilised on the child’ behalf. A family group conference is a meeting attended by members of the immediate and extended family, as well as other people of significance to the child. The meeting draws up a plan to improve the family’s situation.

Read more about Family group conference

Emergency order

If there is a risk that a child will suffer serious harm by remaining at home or if a child is left without care, the head of the Child Welfare Services in the municipality or the prosecuting authority, can immediately issue an emergency order without the consent of the parents.

There are strict conditions in the law that must be met to issue an emergency order. An emergency order must be considered necessary and will not be issued if voluntary assistance measures can reduce the risk of harm to the child.

When an emergency order is issued it must be sent to the County Social Welfare Board for approval. The order shall be approved by the board chair as soon as possible and if possible, within 48 hours.

Care order

When the Child Welfare Services deem that it is in a child’s best interest to be removed from their family, a care order can be issued, and the state takes over the daily care of the child.

The conditions to issue a care order are strict. A care order can only be issued if there are serious deficiencies in the everyday care, if the child is mistreated or subjected to other serious harm such as violence, abuse or neglect at home. It is also a requirement that the care order is necessary due to the child’s situation and in the child’s best interest. A care order cannot be issued if voluntary home-based assistance can provide satisfactory conditions for the child.

When the Board issues a care order it shall also assess the extent of access between the child and the biological parents. The Board decides the minimum extent of access and the Child Welfare Services can grant extended access if it is considered in the best interests of the child.

In most instances certain parts of the parental responsibility for the child remains with the biological parents, even after a care order is issued.

Placement alternatives

Foster care

Foster care is the most common alternative when a child is moved out of the family home.  The Child Welfare Services shall always consider family or people from the child’s network when a child is moved into foster care. In emergency cases a child can be moved to an emergency foster home. These foster homes have gone through extensive training to make sure they are fit as foster parents. As a rule, children under the age of 13 shall be placed in foster care rather than in an institution (RCCI).

The foster parents provide the day-to-day care of the child on behalf of the Child Welfare Services. The CWS is responsible for following up the child and the foster home, and for providing necessary training and other support measures.

The Child Welfare Services at state level (Bufetat) is responsible for recruiting and allocating foster homes, and for providing the necessary training. Norway has implemented a training program for foster parents called PRIDE which is an internationally acknowledged model.

Residential Child Care Institutions (RCCIs)

Children above the age of 12 may be placed in a RCCI for care and/or treatment. These institutions are situated in normal residential areas with no more than a maximum of five to seven children living there at the same time. The children receive daily care and treatment provided by trained staff.

These institutions are considered open and the children participate in the daily life of the institution, attend regular school and take part in social activities in the local community.

Some institutions offer short-term placements, while others are designed for long-term placement.

Monitoring / Follow-up

If the County Social Welfare Board has decided to make a care order, the Child Welfare Service must prepare a care plan. The child must be given the opportunity to participate in preparing the plan. The Child Welfare Service must also offer the parents guidance and follow-up measures. What kind of follow-up measures a family receives, will depend on the circumstances in each case. 

Parents with children in foster care or institutional care are offered advice and counselling by the Family Counselling Service on cooperation with foster parents and the Child Welfare Service, parental guidance etc.

Contact the Family Counselling Service

Adoption

In a few cases the foster child is adopted by their foster parents. This is a legal procedure and it is the County Social Welfare Board that can consent to an adoption. In this case all legal ties between the biological parents and the child ends.