New measures for housing of unaccompanied children

Opinion article, Aftonbladet, 4 november

Every child, regardless of background, has the right to security and to have their basic needs met. It is important to remember this, and never more so than now, when Sweden is taking in a very large number of unaccompanied refugee children. Children arriving alone in Sweden are currently placed in a municipality, where they are processed by social services and placed in appropriate accommodation. Sweden’s municipalities, and in particular their social care services for children and young people, have been under great pressure for a long time, and the Government is anxious to support them in this important work in a number of ways.

As part of endeavours to improve social care services for children and young people, the Government proposed SEK 1 billion over four years in its budget. This investment is based on an agreement between the Government and the Left Party. In addition, we have issued mandates to improve the working conditions of social workers throughout the country in a variety of ways. In terms of the refugee situation, it is worth pointing out that the compensation paid to municipalities for schooling is being substantially raised. The agreement between the parties allocates SEK 10 billion to the municipalities in 2015. These are much-needed resources in local efforts.

As mentioned above, all children who arrive unaccompanied are placed in some form of accommodation under the Social Services Act. This may be a foster home or a home for care or residence.No other forms of placement are available. Unaccompanied children arriving in Sweden are often highly motivated and capable. They want to study and establish themselves in this country. Many municipalities report that newly arrived children often act as inspiration to other children in school. Not all of them have a qualified need for the care offered in the home for care or residence system. For this reason, the Government today decided to propose a new form of placement under the Social Services Act: supported accommodation. It is proposed that the legislative amendment should enter into force on 1 January 2016.

Supported accommodation should be used for the placement of children and young people aged between 16 and 20 and represents an important reform for unaccompanied children, but also for other young people deemed by social services to be in need of their own accommodation and support, but not care or treatment.

At the same time, many people in Sweden have shown very practical solidarity and engagement in the situation that has now arisen. This has manifested itself not least in the declarations of interest in becoming foster parents, legal representatives or specially appointed custodians. Foster homes are a very important form of placement, perhaps primarily for younger children but in some cases also for older children. The need is not fully met: there is plenty of room for more people to contribute to this important social function. To gather information and knowledge and to provide information on this function, the National Board of Health and Welfare has been tasked with initiating and coordinating initiatives to raise awareness of these activities. It should be easy for people to be engaged and show their solidarity.

We find ourselves in a unique situation with respect to the reception of unaccompanied children. Many municipalities have pointed to a need to receive rapid support on various points. This may include interpreting the relevant legislation, and access to tools and practical advice in this area. The National Board of Health and Welfare will therefore set up a call centre to answer questions from municipal social services and support them in their work. This is a much sought-after function, not least among smaller municipalities that do not always have resources available at local level.

These are some of the measures in the area of social services taken by the Government in recent weeks with respect to unaccompanied refugee children. I am convinced that there is more to be done to facilitate work at local level. The current high-pressure situation must not lead to regular activities being forgotten or children’s needs being neglected. I and the Government will monitor developments closely and take all necessary measures.

I am in close contact with, and have visited, municipalities, homes for unaccompanied children, and staff of social care services for children and young people, to hear and see what is needed and how central government can support them. I would like to express my great respect for the efforts being made, and my humility in the face of the challenges our society is coping with in this situation. Social workers whose work situation was already manifestly tough are doing everything they can to ensure a good reception.

Åsa Regnér
Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality