Looking after children and young people

Last updated: 3 10 2018

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

Parents and other legal guardians are responsible for their children, but society also provides help to those who need it. All children and young people are entitled to preschool, school and health care in Sweden.

Most parents keep in close contact with maternity care centres (MVC) before their child is born and with child health care services (BVC) while their children are growing up. These centres employ trained midwives, nurses and doctors. Visits to MVC and BVC are free of charge.

Maternity care centres

Maternity care centres (MVC) are where you go during your pregnancy to check the health and progress of your child and yourself. A midwife will examine you and talk to you about your pregnancy and coming delivery, and will answer any questions you may have as future parents.

You can also go to meetings where you can get information about pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. It is common for the other parent of the child you are expecting to take part in these meetings to. In Sweden it is also common for the other parent to be present at the delivery.

Child healthcare centres

Child health care centres (BVC) provide assistance to parents and examine your child's health to ensure that s/he is growing and developing normally. They can also give you advice and support on how best to look after your child. This includes advice about the child's development, breastfeeding, food and diseases. When you come home after the delivery, you are expected to contact the BVC yourself in order to make your first appointment. Sometimes this will take place in your home. The nurse will explain how the BVC works and will check on your child's health. Your child will also be examined by a doctor. The first visit to the doctor at the BVC usually takes place when the child is six to eight weeks old. This is followed by further visits for health checkups until the child begins school.

Parents are offered vaccinations for their children at the BVC. Sweden has a vaccination programme against nine different diseases, including polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella. The purpose of the vaccination programme is to provide children with protection against disease and ensure that they do not spread infections.

School health service

When children begin school, they go to the school health service for preventative care.

All pupils in preschool class, compulsory school and upper-secondary school are entitled to school health services.

Pupils are offered health visits three times while at compulsory school and once while at upper-secondary school. The health visits encompass health discussion and checks of the child's length, weight, vision and back. Schools also have staff who work together to promote the pupils' health. This can include welfare officers, nurses, principals, special educators and teachers.

All girls in school year 5 or 6 are offered free vaccinations against infection by human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer, condyloma and other cell changes on the cervix.

Photo: Calle Bredberg, City of Gothenburg

Being a parent in a new country

Coming to a new country is a major change for both adults and children. Sometimes, children find it easier to integrate into the new community than adults. Sometimes this leads to adults becoming dependent on their children in contacts with the community. This in turn can lead to roles in the family changing, and too much responsibility being placed on the children. For instance, children should not be interpreting for their parents in their contacts with preschool, school, authorities or health care services.

It is important, therefore, that parents learn about the community the family has moved to and that they understand that the child's new day-to-day life and living environment will also become a part of their identity. If they do, they will have a chance of becoming strong and unambiguous parents, thus creating a secure environment for their children. If the whole family understands the new community's – and wider society's – norms and values, and can see similarities as well as differences with their own identity and culture, the children will have a good chance of a stable life. Many young people begin to liberate themselves from their parents during their teenage years. They want to start looking after themselves and prepare for adulthood. Parents are responsible for supporting their children on this journey into adulthood. It is important to find a balance, so that boundaries can be set for the child. At the same time, the child must be able to develop in the new country.

Love and relationships

People's views on love and relationships vary between different cultures and societies. Of course, these thing are also a matter of individual personalities. For many people in Sweden, it is natural to live together with the person you love without getting married or having children. There is also an understanding that it is part of developing during adolescence to explore love, relationships and one's own sexuality. Many young people have one or more love relationships while they are growing up.

Photo: Colourbox

Forbidden to use violence against children

There is a section of Swedish law called the Children and Parents Code. This stipulates that children have the right to health and social care, security and a good upbringing. One part of the Code is called the anti-corporal punishment law and has been in force in Sweden since 1979. Corporal punishment means using violence for the purposes of educating your children. The anti-corporal punishment law says that it is forbidden to use physical or psychological violence against children. Physical violence includes all forms of violence against the body, which means that lighter slapping, hair-pulling and pinching are also considered physical violence.

However, you are of course allowed to pull a child away from something dangerous such as a hot cooker, and open window or something else that may harm the child.

Psychological violence can be to threaten, scare, ignore or lock up a child. Psychological violence can harm the child's self-esteem and development just as much as physical violence.

Photo: Colourbox

Outlook on childrearing in Sweden

For the majority of parents in the world, love for their child is the most important thing. All children need parents and adults. Adults have to give them guidance, encouragement and love. Adults also have to set boundaries. How a child is brought up has a major impact on their self-confidence and self-esteem. Children who have a secure and loving upbringing also cope better at school and often feel better as adults.

In Sweden, how we raise children has changes much over the past one hundred years. At the beginning of the 20th century, many parents were very strict and it was important that children obeyed adults. Corporal punishment was seen by many to be a natural part of childrearing.

In the 1950s and 60s, the hard and determined forms of childrearing began to be questioned. Many began to change how they viewed childrearing. There was increasing talk about raising children with respect for them. However, it was still common to hit children in order to punish them.

The current, more democratic outlook on childrearing emerged in the 1970s. The goal if for children to learn to think for themselves, take responsibility themselves and become independent people with good self-confidence.

Social services

The social services work in various ways to ensure that all children are well and can grow up in safe circumstances. Parents are responsible for giving their children the care and safety they need. If necessary, the social services can support parents in their parenting. Seeking support in one's parenting is a way of assuming one's responsibilities as a parent. Parents who are given, and accept, help at an early stage can help avoid problems for their child later in life.

When children risk coming to harm, the social services cooperate with the family and other adults to ensure together that the child's situation improves. The social services are qualified to work on various types of problems in families. These include situations when there is a lot of fighting at home, when parents are worried about their health and how this affects their children, when children feel excluded, when children are subjected to violence, threats, harassment or abuse, when children commit crimes, abuse alcohol or drugs, and when children are living in families where abuse exists.

The social services can be informed that a child is in danger of coming to harm by someone making a notification about concern for a child. Such notifications may be made by e.g. a teacher, a head teacher, the police or health care workers. They have a professional obligation to notify the social services if they are concerned about a child's situation. Someone else who has come into contact with the family can also make this kind of notification if theyr are concerned for the child. When the social services receive a notification they have to determine whether the child needs immediate protection. They also have to determine whether they should begin an investigation into what support and help the child and the family need. Both parents and children must be made part of the investigation.

What usually happens is that the parents and the social services agree on what help the child and family need. Any help offered by the social services should first of all be given with the participation and approval of the parents.

If there is a considerable risk that the child's health or development will be harmed because of his/her situation at home or because of his/her own behaviour, the social services may need to give the child support against the will of his/her parents or legal guardians. This may mean that the child will spend a shorter or longer period living with another family (an emergency foster home or a foster home) or in a community home (HVB).