Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, investigates the consequences when rules around the removal of children from their families and their rehoming within the care sector are misapplied. This process is controlled by the Department of Social Welfare under Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare, known as "social services" or simply "Social" - and is leading to psychological and physical health problems down the line.
Ingrid (9) lives in a swirling maelstrom of crying and panic, fearful of being left alone even for a few moments. Anxiety and fear have been her constant companions since she returned to her family last year after being away for five years. She was removed by Social in 2016, and rehomed twice, according to Katherine Dors, her mother who is originally from Germany.
Social decided to remove Ingrid from her family after she took her father's psychiatric pills twice, and after her mother was misdiagnosed with autism on 11 April 2016. The diagnosis was retracted just six weeks later – according to a medical report dated 21 June 2016 which Al-Araby Al-Jadeed was able to obtain.
Ingrid (9) lives in a swirling maelstrom of crying and panic, fearful of being left alone even for a few moments. Anxiety and fear have been her constant companions since she returned to her family last year after being away for five years. She was removed by Social in 2016.
Before that however, Social took the decision to remove Ingrid, placing her in emergency housing for two months (housing for use while awaiting the outcome of an on-going investigation by Social). She was then moved to a foster family. She stayed there three years, before moving to another foster home where she stayed two years.
According to Katherine, the repeated moves have left Ingrid permanently frightened of being moved to another home and school. She also misses her first foster family and can't understand why they don't want to see her anymore. On top of this, she struggles to talk to her mother, having forgotten her German.
Removing children from their original environment and family network, as happened with Ingrid, is a violation of their rights according to Inger Marie Larsson, head of social services in Gothenburg. She stresses the importance that children remain in touch with their family, language and culture, in consideration of their interests, as is stated by the Swedish Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act (1990:52) (known as the LVU Act).
However, a misapplication of the rules in numerous instances by Social have caused deeply harmful ramifications for the physical and mental health of the children involved, according to the evidence gathered by Al-Araby Jadeed for this investigation.
When do rehoming rules apply?
The provisions of the Social Services Act (2001:453) stipulate that care interventions for children and adolescents (0-18 years) are carried out in agreement with the young person and their parents or guardians. In these cases, social welfare officials at the municipality should plan alongside the parents the best type of intervention for the child. Where it is not possible to provide the necessary care with the family's agreement, the LVU Act may be applied.
During 2020, 35,300 individuals were taken from their families and rehomed in the care sector.
This contains regulations on care for under-18s and regulates the work of the Social Welfare Council, a department for which sits in every municipality, and which decides whether to withdraw the child and rehome them with a care agency, according to family lawyer Johan Karlsson. He explains that the application of the law requires the fulfilment of three conditions: that there is a significant risk connected with the child or teenager's home which threatens their health or development (physical or mental); or there is a lack of care which poses a similar threat, or if the young person is seriously endangering his health or development by abuse of habit-forming agents, criminal activity or any other comparable behaviour. It must also have been impossible to arrange the necessary care intervention voluntarily with the consent of the guardians.
According to Article 11 of the LVU Act, the Social Welfare Council is the body which decides the type of care which will be arranged and where the child will be rehoused. Those caring for children are divided into foster families, youth care facilities, emergency homes, and temporary protection homes (providing temporary refuge for those deemed at risk), in addition to youth residential homes for drug rehabilitation. The latter belong to the National Education Council explains Mikael Matson Flink, who supervises the application of rehousing regulations in Social.
During 2020, 35,300 individuals were taken from their families and rehomed in the care sector. The most common form of rehoming was with foster families - 19,400 children and adolescents were placed with foster families, according to the report published in August 2021 by the Social Welfare Council in Sweden, which monitored Social's statistics and performance with children and youth in 2020.
Shortcomings in social services
A 2019 report by Elisabeth Dahlin, Ombudsman for Children to the Swedish government (a government agency tasked with promoting and advancing children's rights and interests in Sweden on the basis of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), proved the longstanding nature of the violations which some children being placed in care were being exposed to.
The report, entitled "Who cares…the voices of children in social care", observed that some children in the system were not accessing their right to education; were suffering from poor health, or being exposed to violent abuse or harm. Dahlin drew up her report after many meetings with children in care; she had documented serious violations during the years 2010, 2011 and 2018 against those in youth care facilities and foster homes. She said the situation hasn’t changed, "even though officials know about these violations now".
Shocking revelations included Social's restriction of contact between parents and their children in care, a lack of care plans (which Social is obliged to prepare), and a failure to investigate possible indicators of violence.
The results of Dahlin's investigation were consistent with the final report published in February 2020 by Sweden's Health and Social Care Inspectorate (IVO) (the government agency supervising healthcare and social services). The IVO report outlined failures related to children's right to participate in the intervention process, as well as issues around documentation, monitoring, complaint handling, and the follow-up of interventions. The report documented 1,297 violations connected to these issues, in 819 cases spread among 252 municipalities.
The risks posed to children and youth have become a significant issue in the light of failures and violations, which were observed by a report entitled "What did the inspectorate witness in 2020?", released by the IVO in March 2021. Shocking revelations included Social's restriction of contact between parents and their children in care, a lack of care plans (which Social is obliged to prepare), and a failure to investigate possible indicators of violence.
Failures weren't limited to children not receiving the correct level of support or protection - in extreme cases they had led to injury and even death, according to the report. This was backed up by what Al-Araby Al-Jadeed documented in the case of Esmerelda Josefsson. Esmerelda was only a few weeks old in 2016 when the administrative court in the Norrköping municipality decided to place her with a foster family because her parents were drug addicts.
However, two and a half years later, the child was returned to her biological parents despite an appeal by her foster family that she remain with them: the appeals court ruled there was no reason to prevent Esmerelda from returning to her biological parents. Her lifeless body was found on 30 January 2020 in the house, and her mother was accused of her murder after forensic examinations showed the child had been killed by a blow to the head, according to the final court ruling issued on 21 June 2021 which Al-Araby Al-Jadeed was able to obtain.
The IVO's report on the case revealed that the Social Welfare Council had received concerned reports in December 2019 and January 2020, and on both occasions their staff in Norrköping municipality had ruled that she remain with her family. The report found that they had ruled this without having sufficient information on Esmerelda's condition due to a failure to follow up her case after her return to her parent's home.
Consequences for physical and mental health
Swede Sofia Rak (not her real name) sought help from Social in March 2020, to intervene to protect her two children after she discovered that her husband was a drug addict. She didn't initially oppose the removal of her children who were placed with a foster family. However, five months later, Social decided to move them again to another family in a different municipality, whose eligibility for foster care wasn't verified.
1. A disinformation campaign is currently under way on various social media – both in Sweden and abroad – alleging that Swedish social services kidnap Muslim children. This information is wrong. It is seriously misleading and aims to create tensions and spread mistrust.— Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (@SweMFA) February 11, 2022
Sofia appealed against the decision, fearful for her children's welfare, but her appeal was refused. The children were moved to a new family, but after one month there they were separated: her older son (9) was returned to the first family, and the younger (6) was placed in emergency housing in Kista municipality in Stockholm. The children were prevented from contacting each other, nor were they allowed to contact their mother.
This contravened article 14 of the LVU Act, which stipulates that the Social Welfare Council has the responsibility to ensure young people can communicate with their parents or guardians as far as is possible. Following these developments, the older son started showing signs of mental disturbance and neglect.
A school report from 20 March 2020 said he struggled to build healthy relationships with his classmates and would lash out violently at them for no reason – for example biting them. He also had a 40 percent absence rate from school and a foul smell emanated from his clothes.
Dr Pehr Granqvist, a psychology lecturer at Stockholm University, explained that processes of intervention and rehoming with foster families, or in institutional care homes, can increase the risk of psychological illness and social problems between children and teenagers and even lead to criminal behaviour. He also doesn't consider there to be convincing evidence that rehoming children is effective.
Dr Pehr Granqvist, a psychology lecturer at Stockholm University, explained that processes of intervention and rehoming with foster families, or in institutional care homes, can increase the risk of psychological illness and social problems.
Although the legislation is designed to promote the "best interests of children", the psychological ramifications of rehoming remain unclear. There are always risks, and these increase when the laws are misapplied and children's new situations are also unstable, Granqvist explains. Separating a child from his family is painful, he says, adding that this option shouldn't be resorted to unless absolutely necessary to protect the child from abuse, neglect or other significant risks which could affect their development.
"Social Services are mostly aware of this," says Dr. Granqvist, "but in some cases they act hastily and decide to remove children because of matters which don't pose a danger without taking into account that this involves a traumatic separation, which could also be repeated because of instability [within alternative housing arrangements] and see the child moved repeatedly."
Lack of competence
The Health and Social Care Inspectorate (IVO) confirms in reports issued between 2010 and 2013 that those within the care system need protection from themselves and each other. This requires Social's staff to be trained and experienced in ways of detecting potential risk factors with the children they work with and being able to implement safeguarding measures.
But Social employs newly graduated sociologists, who don't have sufficient knowledge to deal with some issues, and don't consult experts in areas in which they lack competence, according to Susanne Säfström-Markebjer, chair and founder of Barn (a social services organisation focussed on child welfare).
"We see that clear failings have occurred around psychological assessments for children we meet," says the Barn founder, "however, Social doesn't accept criticism nor regard the observations of supervisory authorities. It has unrestricted power in the care of people's children, and its practices cannot be monitored due to confidentiality and privacy legislation."
Niki Westerberg, head of Stockholm social services press office, when asked about the violations uncovered by this investigation, stated that custody decisions by the court were reviewed every six months at least. It was also possible to run new assessments if the situation changed. She added that children in foster care were visited at least twice a year, and more if necessary depending on the child's individual needs.
We see that clear failings have occurred around psychological assessments for children we meet. However, Social doesn't accept criticism nor regard the observations of supervisory authorities. It has unrestricted power in the care of people's children, and its practices cannot be monitored due to confidentiality and privacy legislation.
However, Larsson, the head of social services in Gothenburg, states that Social itself recommends at least four visits per year to children in care, in order to obtain sufficient information about their situation, and official guidelines (SOSFS 2012:11) recommend regular personal visits without limitation. Larsson stresses the importance of these visits: foster families are like any home in which family problems can arise.
For this reason the situation needs monitoring and intervention if necessary via extending support and guidance. Furthermore, if monitoring reveals the foster family is incapable of the necessary care, the child must be moved. However, this doesn’t usually happen, says Larsson.
Are the children of immigrant families being taken away more?
Children from immigrant families are more likely to be taken into care, according to the first report of a research project analysing Social's investigations into children they suspect of having been exposed to violence. Birgitta Persdotter, senior lecturer in the Department of Social and Psychological Studies at Karlstad University, is one of the researchers for the project.
Refugee parents in Sweden say social services ‘kidnapped’ their children and that they haven’t seen them in years pic.twitter.com/ALjTEsnA2G— TRT World (@trtworld) February 10, 2022
According to her, 15 municipalities are taking part in the project which is analysing data from investigations carried out between 15 May 2019 and 30 April 2020. The research team found that 22 percent of the children of immigrant families had been intervened with on the basis of the LVU law, in contrast with only 9 percent of children from families from Sweden and the Nordic countries.
Conversely, less children from immigrant families received 'voluntary' support (28 percent) than those from Nordic countries (58 percent) which indicated that caregivers from a non-Nordic background weren't keen on receiving voluntary support from the Social services.
The costs of placing children with host families
Data obtained by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed from the Swedish Municipalities and Regions council (SKR) private database showed that in 2021 the maximum monthly amount being paid by municipalities to host families for fostering children was 47,600 Swedish krona (SEK) ($4,983). The amount depended on fostering duration, age of the children, and other factors.
22 percent of the children of immigrant families had been intervened with on the basis of the LVU law, in contrast with only 9 percent of children from families from Sweden and the Nordic countries
While host families should not consider children taken into care as a source of income and the funds given are intended to cover care costs, they do receive privileges, most notably tax exemptions, according to the SKR's executive guidance on social welfare.
Cecilia Moore, consultant at SKR explains that for the children between 0 and 12 years, "the lowest recommended [monthly] compensation is 4,428 SEK ($464) and the maximum is 6,239 SEK ($653), and for the 13-19 age group the lowest is 6,620 SEK ($693) and the highest is 14,854 SEK ($1,555)." She says the amount is contingent on factors like the child's academic, social and healthcare needs.
On this point, the child's health needs are considered by municipalities and funds are allocated for them. However, a 2020 report on oral and dental health in children, released by the National Board of Health and Welfare showed that children with foster families tend to suffer from worse oral health than children living with their original families. They surveyed 3,367 children and adolescents, and found that children within the care system visited dental clinics much less often than other children.
Disclaimer: This investigation is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. All related questions will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.
Contact email@example.com for any questions
The original investigation was published on 4 April 2022. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko