Child protection is the process that aims to find, investigate and help maltreated children. In many countries this process is initiated by professionals who compile mandated reports that are then submitted to a designated agency that in many cases is part of a separate child protection system. In Sweden there is no separate child protection system. In Sweden, the child protection process is part of the family-service organization system. The system has two main objectives, one is voluntary (provide family service), the other coercive (provide child protection). This system is administered by the municipal social services agencies (referred to throughout as Social Services).
Aim: The overall purpose of this study was to gain knowledge of the child protection process in Sweden. The aim was two fold, one to carry out an in-depth study of a population of reports, the other to analyse the results of the findings in relation to the child protection system. The child protection system consists of elements outlined in the macro system: the underlying ideology and the framing of the problem, and the legislation, administration and the demands placed on professionals.
Method: A total population of reports made to one municipality during 1998 was followed to a final decision. The reports were collected in 2000.´There were 1 570 reports made regarding 1 051 children, which composed 4 % of children age 0-18. This initial study was used in four papers where data were analysed covering four different issues. In 2003 a follow-up study was conducted in order to determine the extent to which the child appeared in the database of Social Services. In the first paper the children’s age, gender and contacts with Social Services were described as were the content of the reports and the outcome of reporting. The objective of the second paper was a description of the reporter, and the measurement of the extent to which the reports indicated child maltreatment. The third paper aimed at analysing how the first decision, the decision not to investigate reports, was made in the child protection process. Then a re-evaluation of these decisions was made to see how well the decision was justified. The contacts taken were described. In the fourth paper the influence of the socio-economic load on the child protection process was measured.
Findings: Few reports (16 %) led to an intervention being provided, and 41% of the reports were not investigated further. In the follow-up study 61% of all 1 051 children appeared in the files of Social Services. As Sweden lacks a juvenile delinquency system these cases are automatically passed from the police to Social Services and are there registered as mandated reports.
Hence the police became the largest report group of reporters, followed by professionals. Of the professionals’ reports 22 % were not investigated. In the follow-up study 53 % of these re-occurred at the Social Service and were then investigated. Seventy six percent of the reports not investigated were when re-evaluated found to indicate child maltreatment.
The social worker used the parents as the main source for information in 74 % of the cases. The social worker did not contact the child at all in 53 % of the cases and only nine of the reporters were contacted. In the follow-up study 45 % of the children investigation re-appeared in the files of Social Services. Children from high socio-economic load districts were more often reported than those from middle or low (4.3%, 3.1% 2.3%). The socio economic load when measured in logistic regression was not found to correlate with the decision to investigate.
A main finding in this study was that the child protection process was difficult to separate from other systems within the family service. This makes it much more difficult to evaluate the child protection process.
The reports filed by professionals were not investigated adequately, and the lack of criteria of specifying how reports are to be evaluated creates a risk that maltreated children will not be found. The professional reports were handled in a way that increased the risk that professionals will have negative experiences with Social Services that consequently can lead them to refrain from filing eports.
Conclusion: These findings suggest the following: Pass new legislation that makes it easier to separate each of the three systems from the other. Create a national database in which data on the handling of child-protection cases is systematically recorded. Develop a national reporting form that is to be used by all who file mandated reports of suspected maltreatment. Create clear criteria that specify how a report is to be handled to ensure that the reporting professionals are met with appropriate respect and that the quality of the decisions is guaranteed all over the country.
Institutionen för klinisk och experimentell medicin , 2007.
2007-12-07, Berzeliussalen, Campus US, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 09:00 (English)