BLOG: May 10th is the Norwegian national foster home day. Congratulations to all foster home families. They are societies everyday superheroes. In Norway there are about 8000 children living in foster homes that provide children with love and family life. Unfortunately, too many foster homes are not satisfied with their situation and their ability to provide for their foster children. This is a threat to children and their rights to care and safety. How can this be solved?
Blogpost by Professor Marit Skivenes, Director of Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism.
On March 20, 2023, the expert committee I had the privilege to lead, delivered the report NOU 2023: 7 titled “Safe Childhood, Secure Future” to the Minister of Children and Family, Kjersti Toppe, in which a range of suggestions for improvement of the child protection system were presented. The theme of the report is rule of law and due process in child protection, and especially if and how children and parents’ rights are secured and fulfilled. Children living in out of home placements are a special concern for the discussions and work in the committee because care orders are serious interventions in people’s life. Therefore, consideration around rule of law should be held to a high standard.
In the reports chapter 19 the situation for children in foster home is discussed. For the committee, the situation of children who cannot live at home is particularly important to examine because children in public care have clear rights: Firstly, a right to good care, predictability, continuity, and safe environments. Secondly, a right to participate in decision-making processes that concern them and their lives. If these rights are not fulfilled, it is a violation of children´s rights and a failure to provide the necessary conditions for children’s development.
Due to ongoing work in the ministry, following the report on foster homes from 2018, the committee’s work focuses primarily on the formal conditions care for children in foster homes and stability for children´s care situation.
“It is also the case that many children experience uncertainty and long for “normalcy” in their lives.”
Formal conditions for care in foster homes
For children living in foster homes due to decisions of care order, the responsibility for the child is divided among three actors: the birth parents, the foster parents, and the child protection services. The committee see that this leads to ambiguities and unreasonable limitations in the decision-making authority of foster parents, which in turn creates undesirable consequences for children and young people living in foster homes. It is also the case that many children experience uncertainty and long for “normalcy” in their lives. They want to be like any other children. We know that a significant number of children stay in foster homes for a long time: 25% stay for 7 years or more. One important improvement is to create clarity regarding the decisions foster parents can make.
“The guidelines should be based on the premise that foster parents should be able to make decisions in matters that are typically made by parents.”
The committee suggest guidelines to specify the decision-making authority of foster parents. The guidelines should be based on the premise that foster parents should be able to make decisions in matters that are typically made by parents. This would include clarifying decision-making authority regarding school and extracurricular activities, travel, situations related to education and health, setting boundaries, to mention some important aspects. Expense coverage that is not regulated in any other way should also be addressed in this context. Such guidelines can facilitate and “normalize” the daily life of the child, as well as the foster parents, because foster families become more like other families in daily family routines and life. It can also provide foster parents with a clearer role as caregivers and parents for the child, while also relieving the child protection services for some tasks.
“Foster parents should have access to information about the child from other public authorities, such as healthcare records.”
Another key aspect to strengthen the position of the children is to grant foster parents the right to make a complaint or appeal public decisions concerning the child that are not related to child protection matters. Additionally, foster parents should have access to information about the child from other public authorities, such as healthcare records. The committee believes these changes are necessary for foster parents to provide good care for the child in accordance with children´s right to family life and loving care.
Stability for foster children
Too many children in foster homes experience broken relationships due to moving from home to home. Half of all children living in foster homes have experienced at least one move since they arrived in their first foster home (not including emergency placements). It is typical for children to move 1-2 times during their first year in foster care before the situation stabilizes. We know that 30% of children have moved two or more times, and 9% have moved three times or more. 67% of youths in institutional care have experienced three or more moves.
“The purpose of this consultation is to explore whether moving can be avoided or if a child-sensitive move.”
The committee proposes that consultation should be conducted with relevant actors and significant individuals in the child’s life if the child protection services or the foster home intends to terminate a foster care placement. The purpose of this consultation is to explore whether moving can be avoided or if a child-sensitive move can be achieved by introducing new perspectives and thinking constructively about the reasons for desiring a move. Some child protection services already practice this. Cases involving moving are time-sensitive, and a consultation meeting must be promptly arranged to specifically discuss the child’s perspective and situation.
“The child protection services should assess the duration of the placement after the child has been placed for 3 years, and then annually.”
The committee also proposes that the child protection services should assess the duration of the placement after the child has been placed for 3 years, and then annually. The committee believes that clarification is needed regarding the child’s care situation and their right to stable relationships and caregiving conditions in foster homes and public care. The question that needs to be clearly asked and answered is whether the goal of reunification should still apply or if the door for reunification should be closed on behalf of the child.
The committee suggests that for children with party rights (the committee proposes that children at the age of 12 should have party rights), decisions about moving can be reviewed by the board (see Chapter 8).
If a system with a Child Representative (BRO) is implemented, all children will have party rights managed by the child representative until the child can independently exercise their own rights and can therefore request a review by the board.
Main suggestions for improvements
In summary, committee’s main proposal to directly strengthen the situation for children, are as follows:
- Guidelines should be developed to specify the decision-making authority of foster parents.
- Foster parents should be given the right to appeal public decisions about the child and have access to information about the child from other public authorities.
- Mandatory consultation should be introduced involving all parties concerned when moving a child is being considered.
- The economic and professional framework conditions for foster parents should be legally defined.
- The child protection services, with a focus on the best interests of the child, are obliged to assess the duration of the placement after 3 years, and then annually.
- Children with party rights may appeal a decision about moving from a foster home.