Social Services is required to intervene if a guardian is not able to provide a child care, protection and support. It is therefore important that you contact Social Services if you suspect a child is being harmed.
Under chapter 14 § 1 of the Social Services Act (Socialtjänstlagen), organisations and authorities such as schools, child health centres, the Swedish Prosecution Authority, the police, healthcare organisations, childcare organisations, and the Swedish Prison and Probation Service are obliged to immediately report any condition that may require the Social Welfare Board to intervene to protect a child. This applies to all employees of the organisation or authority. Those operating as part of a professional private organisation that deals with children and youth, that works in the healthcare sector, or that works in the field of social services also have a duty to report.
If you have a duty to report and are concerned that a child is being harmed, read more in the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare’s brochure or on their website.
Chapter 14 § 1 c of the Social Services Act contains a recommendation to the public to report any situation that may involve harm to a child. The request to the public is characterised as a “should” in the legal text and is based on the idea that everyone is responsible for ensuring that children and young people are not harmed.
When can a child be harmed?
A child can be harmed in many different situations and for one or multiple reasons. For example, a child or young person may be subjected to physical violence, mental abuse, sexual abuse, physical or mental neglect, or humiliation. A child who experiences situations where dad abuses mum, or lives in a family with serious relationship problems between the child and the rest of the family may also be harmed. Children and young people can be harmed through their own behaviour, such as from alcohol or drug addiction, crime, and other self-destructive behaviour. Harm could also involve them being threatened, physically harmed or abused in other ways by their peers. Regardless of a child’s situation, any time there is a suspicion or knowledge that a child is being harmed a report must or should be made to the Social Welfare Board.
If you are unsure whether you should report a situation, call Social Services for advice without revealing the child’s identity. If you reveal the child’s name, Social Services may need to treat the call as a report.
If you suspect that a child has been the victim of a crime, it is important that you or your organisation also consider making a police report.
How do you make a report that a child is being harmed?
To make a report during the day, call the Social Welfare Centre (Socialkontoret) of the city or district in which the child lives. Outside of office hours, call Social Emergency Services (Socialjouren). Once Social Services has received a report, staff from the authority will investigate the situation. They will make a preliminary assessment, where they determine whether investigation is necessary. If the child is suspected of having been abused or of experiencing the abuse of a loved one, an investigation is started without delay.
As part of the assessment, Social Services determines whether the child or the family needs some form of support. Social Services interviews people with close ties to the family to get as good a picture as possible of the child’s situation and to be able to make a decision on aid. The investigation must be completed within four months. If the child lives in Gothenburg, you can read more about how to make a report and how Social Services works here.
If you work for an authority or organisation obliged to report concern that a child is being harmed, it is a good idea to found out the reporting procedures in the place where you work.
Thoughts before making a report
Before making a report, many thoughts might pop into your head, making you unsure and hesitant about reporting.
What if my suspicions are unfounded?
It may be hard to make a report if you do not have clear evidence for your concern and nothing concrete to point to. However, your suspicions that a child is being harmed do not have to be confirmed or proven. It is the responsibility of Social Services or the police to investigate the matter. You don’t have to speculate on causes of signs that a child is being harmed or feels guilty.
Can a report do more harm than good?
There are no guarantees that reporting the matter will make the child’s situation better. The reporter may worry that the child will be punished or that their situation will get worse. Children and young people often do not know their rights in situations where they are being harmed, or where they can turn for help. The child may have tried to signal or tell those around them without results. If someone then calls attention to the child’s situation and makes a report, it may show the child that someone sees what is happening and cares about them.
How do I interact with the parents?
A report may be perceived as a declaration of distrust and a betrayal of the parents. The parents may feel offended and react with anger. However, when you make a report, it is not against the parents. It is a report of your observations related to the child. If possible, it is a good idea for the reporter to tell the parents that they intend to or have already contacted Social Services.
Other hinders may be that you are unsure about when a situation can be considered serious enough to make a report, that it is easy to identify with the parents and see things from their perspective, ignorance of what happens when a report is made, concern about what the report may lead to, or strong emotions that arise when the person realises a child is being harmed. Despite things that might make a person hesitate to make a report, it is important that adults react and dare to take responsibility so the child is able to get help and support.