Children in family homes. Suggestions for measures that would make a difference for those who are most vulnerable in society

Titti Mattsson Bo Vinnerljung

A stronger legislation is needed in order to fulfil the rights to health, education and family of children placed in family homes, according to two professors of law and social work, respectively – who have together written a new SNS research report.

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Titti Mattsson and Bo Vinnerljung identify a number of shortcomings in the current regulatory framework for children in family homes. In several areas, these children get worse support in Sweden than in many other countries. The responsibility of the social services is too weakly regulated in a legislatory framework with few minimum standards, which has led to large variations between municipalities.
In this report, the researchers suggest legislatory changes that would improve the health, school results and family contacts of children placed in family homes.

Offer a health control to all children who have been placed in family homes. Introduce mandatory rules for municipalities and county councils to offer health controls, including a medical examination for all children when they are placed in a family home. This is currently legislated in England and Finland. In Sweden, it applies for adopted children and refugee children.
Introduce ability tests for reading and arithmetic. All data indicates that children in family homes get worse possibilities than others to develop their potential at school. The most important thing is to counteract early school failures. Using ability tests for reading and arithmetic creates a basis for compensatory measures for these children and the chance to catch up with their classmates.
The right to an extended stay in a family home after the age of 18. In Sweden, placement in a family home ceases to be valid at the age of 18 or when the child leaves secondary school. After that, many children do not get any support, neither from the family home nor from their biological parents. In our Nordic neighbouring countries, these children have the right to stay in the family home a few more years after their 18th birthday. Such a right should also be introduced in Sweden.

The researchers also want to give parents the right to support when a child is committed to the care of the social authorities. In contrast to England and the US, Swedish legislators have rejected adoption as a way of giving children who are committed to the care of society a family. Instead, we should focus on helping the biological parents so that the children can return home again:
– Most of the longer placements in family homes are due to the fact that parents have problems. It is often the case that the parents’ situation deteriorates when the children are placed in social care, according to Titti Matsson, Professor of Public Law, Lund University.

This report is part of the SNS Research Programme Investments in Equal Chances in Life.

The report was presented at an SNS seminar on April 4 where ULF KRISTERSSON, economic-policy spokesman (M) and previous minister of social insurance participated.

”We must have a perspective that spans a whole generation. What can be done today so that these children can become good parents themselves in the future?”, according to him.

Kristersson did also mention the importance of schools for children who have been placed in a family home:

”No other social measure is on par with schools. It is obvious that children who produce sufficient results, take their tests and pay attention during the lessons have much better possibilities than children who fall behind.”

Kristersson concludes by being forward looking:

”We do not follow up social policy work to any sufficient extent. There are not enough examples of experimental studies and intradisciplinary studies. The answers always come afterwards in a classified document. The municipalities need more check lists and less models that have been patched together.”