– We believe that it was previously stipulated too little contact in many cases for children who are placed in care. This is about to get better, says Bufdir director Mari Trommald.
It is the county councils and courts that determine how much contact parents should have with their children after the child welfare service has taken over the care of them.
For the first time, guidelines have been drawn up for how the child welfare service is to assess contact. They will soon be sent out for consultation.
The Human Rights Court (EMD) has in several judgments criticized Norwegian practice for contact. Often they have been set only four to six times a year. In many cases, there has been too little contact for children to be reunited with parents.
– This practice is created by the county boards and courts, not the child welfare service, says Mari Trommald in the Directorate for Children, Youth and Families (Bufdir), who is responsible for the state child welfare service.
– But now the child welfare service in the municipalities will be better at creating a good decision basis for the boards. That is why we have prepared these guidelines, she says.
– The guidelines state that specific and individual assessments must be made for contact in each individual case. Has the child welfare service not done this before?
– Yes, but now we are even clearer on how to make these assessments and what elements to look for.
Return a stated goal
She points out that it is the child’s best interests that should be taken into account.
– But one must take into account both the child’s and the parents’ needs. It is important to weigh the various considerations against each other.
Trommald says return to the parents should be a stated goal at the care placements, in line with the judgments in the EMD.
– This is a bit new for the child welfare service, although it has been included in the assessments before as well. Now one should have reunion as a premise, and then it is important to maintain a good dialogue with the parents.
She points out that tribunals and courts have not had feedback so clearly when they have determined visitation.
The scope of contact should “strengthen the relationship”
The guidelines state that the scope of contact must support the purpose of “developing, maintaining and strengthening the relationship between the child and the parents”.
The text is not yet completely finished. The guidelines will be sent for consultation in early December.
– Some children are restless and cry when they meet parents for company. The child’s reactions are often used as an argument for having less time together. Can the child welfare service misunderstand what is happening?
– Some children have been exposed to violence or gross neglect. They can be directly harmed by meeting those who have exposed them to this. Children can have physical reactions, this is a knowledge we have. But there may also be other reasons why children behave in special ways in the social situation, says Trommald.
– Here too, it is important to balance that knowledge against other considerations.
– How many visits should children actually have a year for it to be possible to be reunited with their parents?
– It will depend on the child’s age and what situation the child and the parents are in. There may be conditions at the parents that make them unable to take care of the child and have contact. For example, mental illness or substance abuse problems, says Trommald.
– It is also important that the child should have the most normal life possible, with friends, activities and training. The foster parents’ opportunity to provide good care must also be taken into account.
A recent report from Oslo Met states that contact less than eight times a year will in principle not be in accordance with applicable law. Then it is assumed that the goal of reunification is maintained, and that consideration for the child does not make it necessary to have less time together.