What do the social services do?

Last updated: 4 10 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about the social services. All municipalities in Sweden have social services that provide various types of help and support to people. This might be financial support to families or support to people with functional impairments. The text describes how the social services work to promote the best interests of children. It also explains the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act, known in Swedish as Lagen om vård av unga, or LVU. 

What do the social services do?

The main task of the social services is to provide parents with the help and support they need in order to be able to look after their children. If you are finding something difficult about parenting, it is a good first step to admit it to someone. That makes it easier to change something about your situation. It is also easier for the social services to provide the right help if they are able to collaborate with the parents and if everyone trusts one another.

This text has been taken from a brochure published by the National Board of Health and Welfare called "The social services work to promote children's best interests – Information for parents".

  • The social services work to promote children’s best interests – Information for parents

    Many families receive help from the social services

    Every municipality has social services. Social services staff are qualified social workers with specialist knowledge about children's needs, and their job is to ensure that all children get to grow up under safe circumstances. In practice, this might involve giving support to families in which one of the parents has mental health or addiction problems. The social services also have to protect children and parents who are subjected to violence or abuse.

    The principal aim is to get things to function better at home

    The social services can help you in many different ways. The way it usually works is that you first come to an agreement about what type of support is most suitable. Families in which there are lots of conflicts, for example, can meet with a person who is specialised in helping families resolve conflicts. Parents can be given support in their parenting role, either in individual counselling or in group sessions with other parents. Children can have a contact person appointed for them or get to meet with other children in similar situations.

    Anyone can apply for support and protection

    If you think you need support or protection, you are welcome to contact the social services and describe your situation. Both children and parents can contact the social services for help and support.

    To speak to the social services, contact their office in your home municipality. Your municipality's website has phone numbers and other means of contacting them.

    If you are concerned for someone else, you can notify the social services

    Anyone who suspects that a child may be coming to harm can notify the social services of their concern. This does not mean that you are reporting the child's parents, for example, only that you are reporting your concern for the child. If staff in preschool, school or medical care services suspect that a child is coming to harm, they are obliged by law to notify the social services.

    You make your notification of concern directly to the social services. If you only want to ask questions about a child's situation, you can do so without stating the child's name.

    What happens next?

    If the social services make the assessment that a child may be in need of protection or support, it is their job to determine what is best for the child and the family. They do this by making an investigation into the child's situation. Parents as well as children are invited to be part of the investigation and to give their version of the situation. The social services may also need to speak to other people who know the child, such as relatives and teachers.

    What information are the social services allowed to share?

    Everyone who comes into contact with the social services must be able to rely on them not to share sensitive information with others. The social services therefore has a great responsibility when it comes to protecting information as well. This is known as professional secrecy, or a duty of confidentiality. As the guardian of a child, you would normally be told everything to do with your child. But the social services may not share any information that could expose the child to a serious risk. The older a child gets, the more decisions the child gets to make independently. Older children may therefore need to approve the sharing of certain information with their guardians.

    Support if the child cannot continue living at home

    If living at home does not work, the child may have to live somewhere else for a period of time. This might be with another family (a foster home) or a home for care or residence (an HVB home). Parents in that situation are entitled to support from the social services, which might include help to develop their parenting. The goal is always to make things as good as possible for the child.

    Koll på soc – for older children

    Kollpasoc.se is a website for children about the social services. It has information about the social services and how they can help children and young people. The texts are written in easy-to-understand Swedish and are based on real questions children have asked.

The Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act (abbreviated LVU)

If a child or a young person under the age of 21 is at risk of coming to grave harm, that child can be taken into care under the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act (Lagen om vård av unga, or LVU). This is an act intended to protect children and young people from coming to harm.

Under LVU, the social services can place a child or a young person in a foster home, for example, even if it is against the will of the child and its parents. The social services can do this if a child is in a very bad situation at home with his or her family, or if the child does things that could be bad or cause harm to the child.

  • Interview with Karin at the National Board of Health and Welfare

    Hi Karin! What does the National Board of Health and Welfare do?

    The National Board of Health and Welfare is Sweden's expert agency for health and social care. This means, for example, that we collect and analyse statistics, rules and knowledge for the health and medical care services and for the social services. We provide support and help to employees in the health and medical care services and in the social services to ensure that everyone in Sweden has equal access to good healthcare and social care.

    What might be some the reasons why a child is taken into care and no longer allowed to live with his or her family?

    There can be many different reasons why a child cannot continue living at home with his or her family. One reason might be that the child is coming to harm or is at risk of coming to harm at home because a parent uses drugs or is violent. Another reason could be that the child might harm itself or others if the child continues living at home.

    Who makes the decision to take a child into care?

    The social services have the ultimate responsibility for children who need help from public services. They can provide various forms of support and protection to children who need it. If the child's situation is particularly serious, the social services may decide to take the child into care, removing the child from home and placing the child in another home. A court then has to determine whether the social services' decision was correct.

    What is the procedure for taking a child into care?

    Taking into care can be done in various ways. In some cases, the parents and the social services agree that the best thing for the child is to live away from the home for a period, meaning the child is placed in another home. This is known as a voluntary placement.

    The social services and the court will sometimes place a child in another home against the will of the parents or the child itself. This is known as a compulsory placement, and the social services and the court are acting in the best interests of the child. Their decision is taken under the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act, or LVU.

    A child may be placed with another family or in what is known as a short-term foster home or a home for care or residence (an HVB home). These home are arranged by the social services for the child. The social services then continue to provide support and help to the child and the parents once the child has been placed in a home.

    Can a parent have preferences regarding whom the child is placed with, so that the child will be able to practise the same religion or speak the language spoken at home?

    Yes, the child and parents may express preferences regarding where the child is to be placed. The child is entitled to the same language, religion, and ethnic and religious background.

    When the social services are going to place a child in another home, they have to look into whether the child can live with relatives or friends, for example. Their main consideration is what is best for the child. This means that all preferences cannot always be met.

    When can the child move back home again?

    The length of time that the child has to live in another home varies. It may be for a few days, weeks or months, or during the child's entire upbringing.

    The goal is for the child to move back in with the family when this is possible. During the time that the child is in care, the parents are entitled to support and help from the social services.

    I suspect that my neighbour beats his children. What should I do?

    If you suspect that a child is coming to harm, you should make a notification of concern to the social services. Children rarely tell other people that they are being beaten or are coming to harm in other ways. It is therefore important that adults in children's proximity act if they feel concerned about a child.

    The social services have the ultimate responsibility for giving children the protection and support they need. In order to be able to do that, the social services need to know if and when a child is need of protection and support. One way for them to know is through notifications of concern.

    When the social services receive a notification of concern, they investigate the situation to determine whether the child is in need of help. Contact information for the social services is available on your municipality's website.

    Violence and other criminal acts must also be reported to the police.

    My child just remains at home during the daytime. She stays up late at night and sleeps during the day. What should I do?

    Find out why your child is doing that. Some children stay at home because they are sad or anxious. This might be because the child does not feel safe at school or because the child has mental health issues. This might make the child stay home from school. It might also influence the child's well-being and relationships with friends and family.

    Try to ask for help as early as possible. You can speak to school staff, for instance, or with the social services or the psychiatric services for children and young people (Barn- och ungdomspsykiatrin, BUP). Sometimes all of these need to work together in order to give the child the right support. Many municipalities and regions also provide early support and treatment via what is known as a first-line clinic. Such support might include counselling, therapy or, when needed, medication.