Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 March 2021
The discussions and debates on errors and mistakes in child protection in Sweden concern issues of different degree and extent. Only a few years ago the Swedish state both gave recognition and apologies to persons who had been maltreated in the Swedish child protection system historically and up to 1980. The role of Social Services in these cases has been depicted as faulty. The failure to strengthen children's rights in relation to the decision-making system in child protection, as well as in the Social Services’ day-to-day work. For instance, the large number of unaccompanied children in Sweden over recent years raise other issues, which have been much discussed and debated. For example, arbitrary age assessment of young asylum seekers has aroused anger and conflict within professional groups working with unaccompanied children (Hjern et al, 2012). Other debates focus on creating better services and developing professional expertise in order to reduce errors and mistakes. The most serious cases of maltreatment resulting in the death of children evoke great distress in Social Services in general and these cases are also a matter of public concern. Questions of whether Social Services could have acted differently and averted the tragedy are at the forefront of the discussions in these instances and have resulted in more demands for investigations when children have died as a result of crime.
Child protection in Sweden
The population of Sweden was 2017 just over 10.1 million, of whom 2.1 million, approximately 21 per cent, were aged 0–17 years (SCB, 2019). Child protection in Sweden is handled at municipality level by professional social workers employed by Social Services in each of the 290 municipalities. The larger municipalities often have a decentralised organisation with a Social Service organisation in each district. Social work is not a formally protected profession, meaning that the municipality could employ people without a social work degree, but in today's social work practice professional social workers undertake investigations, build relations with children and families, and propose the decisions in child protection cases (Höjer et al, 2012).
The child protection system in Sweden has an explicit family service orientation.