Sweden’s work to ensure children’s and young people’s safe and secure upbringing

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Every child and young person has the right to a safe, secure and bright future, to be properly cared for and to grow up in a home free from violence.

Everyone in Sweden has the same constitutional rights and freedoms, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or religious affiliation. The Instrument of Government states that public power shall be exercised with respect for the equal worth of all and the liberty and dignity of the individual. Sweden also stands up for children’s own rights, regardless of where they come from or their parents’ beliefs and origin. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is law in Sweden, is very clear. The best interests of the child must always be taken into account in all decisions and measures affecting them. Sweden has also ratified other international conventions that exist to protect human rights, such as the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

All children and young people have the right to a safe, secure and bright future, to be properly cared for and to grow up in a home without violence. Sweden has a long and proud history of promoting good conditions for children to grow up in, based on the best interests of the child.

Some examples of reforms that have been implemented in Sweden to protect the best interests of the child are universal and free maternal care, free child health care and preschool, and prohibition on the corporal punishment of children. Some of these are uniquely Swedish initiatives that, early on, set a very high minimum level for how all children in Sweden should be treated. Every child in Sweden has human rights of their own. While children are their parents’ greatest duty and responsibility, children have rights of their own that are separate from the rights of parents. In Sweden, it is of the utmost importance to listen to and respect the child and to be aware that what we do with – and to – the child affects them for the rest of their lives. The best interests of the child must be determined in each individual case. The child’s own opinions and experience must be taken into account, but society always has a responsibility to protect the child against neglect, exploitation and abuse.

In Sweden, parental support has long been available to help parents fulfil their parental responsibilities. They are entitled to support and help when they experience difficulties. No parents are perfect, but most people can be good parents; some just need help to get there, and it is society’s collective responsibility to help families who cannot manage it all on their own. That is why social services exist; they were created to provide help and support to parents who request or need it.

Social services provide support to children and adults alike

Social services are society’s last-resort safety net. Swedish social services are responsible for ensuring that children and young people receive the support they need during their childhood, but also that parents receive support in their parenting role if they need it. Social services are responsible for protecting children who are mistreated or at risk of being mistreated. This is an incredibly important – yet difficult – task. The best interests of the child must always be the guiding principle. If children and young people are at risk, society has a duty and a responsibility to ensure that they receive the protection and support they need. The best interests of the child must always take precedence over the interests of the biological parents.

Social services operate in all municipalities and employ social workers with specialised knowledge of children’s needs. Many families receive help from social services. Ordinarily, an agreement is reached on the type of support that best suits the family. For example, high-conflict families can receive help from someone who is good at helping families solve such problems. Parents can also receive support for their parental role through counselling. Children may have the possibility to have a contact person or meet other children in the same situation.

The best interests of the child are the always the goal

If it is not appropriate for the child to live at home, it may be necessary for them to temporarily live somewhere else. The child may, for example, stay with another family (such as in a foster home), or in a home for care or residence. Parents also have the right to receive support from social services in such a situation. For example, parents can get help to develop their parenting skills. The aim is always to ensure the best possible situation for the child.

Voluntary measures are the first option

Swedish social services’ activities are governed primarily by the Social Services Act, which is based on a voluntary approach. If social services receive information about a child being mistreated or at risk of being mistreated, they must assess the child’s need for support and protection. They then suggest measures that can help the situation for the family and the child. In most cases, the family and social services reach an agreement.

When the child does not get the help they need

If interventions provided on a voluntary basis are unsuccessful, the Care of Young Persons Act makes it possible in some cases to adopt measures without the consent of the parents or the child. A care-related decision in which the child cannot remain with their biological parents is a last resort and can only be taken if, for example, the child is in immediate danger. This may involve one of the parents struggling with serious mental health issues or substance abuse, or the child being subjected to violence or other abuse. The problems in the child’s life must entail a tangible risk of harm to their health or development, and it must also not be possible for care to be provided by voluntary means. Decisions on whether a child or young person needs to be taken into care are taken by a court, but if there is an urgent need for the child to be protected and relocated to another home, social services can issue an immediate care order that a court subsequently examines and takes a decision on after the fact. Compulsory care must always be based on the best interests of the child.

Foster homes are available when a child remain at home

When a child needs another home, the first option is that they stay with someone close to them, such as a relative. If this is not possible, there are other families that can receive the child in their home. This is referred to as the child living in a foster home.

Social services always assess a foster home by conducting interviews and home visits, and contacting people who know the family. If the foster home is appropriate, the municipality examines whether the specific home has suitable conditions for taking care of the specific child that social services considers needs to live somewhere else temporarily.

Social services have a responsibility to design care in a way that promotes the child’s affinity with the family and other people who are meaningful to the child, their culture and their language.

Social services work consistently to examine, assess and develop care for children to ensure that children who need to be placed in other homes will have stable, orderly and secure conditions on a long-term basis. The child’s right to safety and security takes precedence over the parents’ right to have their child returned.

When care is no longer needed, the social welfare committee will order the termination of care

The basic premise is that care should not last longer than is necessary. The aim of care should be for the child to be reunited with their parents as soon as possible if this is considered to be in the child’s best interests. Care should be considered a temporary measure. The Social Welfare Committee should regularly examine the need for continued care of the child. When care is no longer needed, the Committee will order its termination and prepare for the child and their parents or custodial parents to be reunited.

Government measures taken to strengthen protection of children and counter disinformation

  • In both 2022 and 2023, the National Board of Health and Welfare was tasked with proposing measures to build long-term trust for social services among children, young people and families who need support and assistance. The Board will conduct an ongoing dialogue with civil society organisations, faith communities and other actors regarding social services for children, young people and families. The aim is to also provide outreach information on social media to fight rumours and disinformation about work carried out by social services. In addition, the task includes developing ways of working that can help to build trust in social services’ activities. The final report is to be presented by 10 December 2026. Until then, interim reports are to be submitted annually.
  • In February 2023, the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency was tasked with strengthening resilience to malign information influence against social services. The final report was presented on 31 January 2024.
  •  In August 2023, the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities was tasked with planning an information campaign targeting municipalities, regions and government agencies to enhance their knowledge about faith communities and their activities. The campaign should promote collaboration between public actors and faith communities with the aim of strengthening democratic society. For example, faith communities may have the opportunity to convey important information in outreach to individuals and groups that municipalities, regions and government agencies otherwise have difficulty reaching. The final report was presented on 15 January 2024.
  • The National Board of Health and Welfare, the Swedish Migration Agency and the Swedish Police Authority have been tasked with conducting a joint three-year development project addressing the issue of unaccompanied minors who go missing. The aim of the assignment is to increase knowledge in this area and develop coordinated and long-term sustainable working methods to prevent the disappearance of children. The final report is to be submitted in October 2025, following interim reports in 2023 and 2024.

Other measures

  • The Inquiry on measures to mitigate the vulnerability of public sector employees (Ju2022:02) has been tasked with presenting legislative proposals to make the penalty for violence or threats against a public official more severe, and to make insulting behaviour towards public officials an offence. The Inquiry presented its final report on 1 January 2024.
  • The Government has worked to tighten legislation concerning crimes against journalists and certain other useful social functions, including social services staff. The new act entered into force on 1 August 2023. Tougher approach to crimes against journalists and certain other useful social functions – Government.se (in Swedish)
  • The Government has worked on a new act concerning security officers, which entered into force on 1 January 2024. The act concerns increasing the possibilities of using security officers in more locations and larger geographical areas than at present. For example, social services will be able to apply for a permit from the Swedish Police Authority to use security officers on their premises under the new act. New act concerning security officers – Regeringen.se (in Swedish)
  •  In September 2023, the Government tasked the National Agency for Education with surveying and analysing how the disinformation campaign concerning Swedish social services has affected – and is affecting – schools. The Agency must also provide examples of successful collaboration between schools, social services and the police, as well as other measures that have successfully countered the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories. The final report is to be presented by 29 November 2024.