We explore the Danish welfare system with a special needs child.
Text: Martina Popadakova / Sara R. Newell
As a parent, it can be intimidating if the municipality initiates a child welfare assessment (børnefagligundersøgelse), as it is most common to hear of such an evaluation if a child is to be removed from the home. It is important to emphasise that this is not the case, in the vast majority of child welfare cases involving children with a disability. Instead, the intention is to assess the child's overall situation, for the municipality to evaluate which special support needs the child may have, e.g. relief care for the child, a support contact person, or other support options.
Why is a child welfare assessment necessary?
The child welfare assessment forms the basis for the municipality to grant support to a family with a special needs child/young adult. The evaluation should provide an overview of the child's and the family's overall situation, thus giving an overall picture of their support needs. Furthermore, it also aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the child's and the family's resources, support options, and relevant networks.
The assessment should include a holistic view of the child/young adult, including, but not limited to, the following:
Development and behaviour
Freetime activities and friendships
Other relevant topics.
When should the child welfare assessment be initiated?
The requirements for carrying out the child welfare assessment are described in section 50 of the Danish Social Service Law. We emphasise that it is essential to be familiar with these conditions, as it, unfortunately, is not always the case, that the municipality (caseworker) follows all of the required conditions.
The municipality is required by law to initiate a child welfare investigation, as soon as the municipality becomes aware that a child/young adult is not thriving may need special assistance. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for municipalities not to comply with these legal requirements.
Other options for getting the municipality to initiate a child welfare assessment, are upon a request from:
The family, the child/young adult seeking assistance or special support
Official letters of concern from external parties. E.g. the child's school, doctor, psychologist, amongst others, can contact the municipality if they are concerned for the child's welfare or that the child's special needs are not being met.
The municipality itself can become aware of the child's special needs by assessing the child's siblings.
According to Danish law, the child welfare assessment does not require parental consent. However, as much as possible, the evaluation should be carried out in collaboration with the parent or guardian who has custody and the child if the child is 15 years old or older.
How is the child welfare assessment carried out?
The child welfare assessment should be as thorough as possible, but should not be more extensive than necessary. For this purpose, several types of information are collected and included in the assessment.
Existing information: the caseworker can obtain the necessary information that has already been collected regarding the family, the child's daycare/school, information from the hospital or other relevant authorities who have been in contact with the child/young adult.
To ensure that your case's handling is sufficiently thorough, to ensure a correct outcome, you have the right to obtain new statements from, e.g. daycare staff, doctors, psychologists, private individuals and others who have knowledge about your child and your child's wellbeing.
Child Welfare Interview: It is essential that the child, regardless of age, is involved in the assessment. Therefore, a child welfare interview must be carried out, where the caseworker will interview your child. The fact that the child has a disability is not a reason for the interview not to be carried out.
The municipality is required to ensure that:
The interview takes place in a safe environment
The child has the right to have a support person during the interview: e.g. parents, educator or a teacher
It is also possible to contact Børns Wilkår, who can provide a professional support person to give your child moral support during the interview.
When should the examination be completed?
Once all relevant information has been obtained, the caseworker must make an overall assessment and ruling, regarding whether your child is entitled to special assistance. The family must review the comprehensive evaluation and give their opinion of the ruling before the final decision is made. The family's opinion does not impact the final ruling, but must be included in the case files.
According to social service law, the assessment must be completed no later than 4 months after the municipality has become aware that the child/young person may need assistance. It is not uncommon for municipalities to surpass the legal deadline of 4 months, and unfortunately, in some cases, the assessment can take several months, or even over a year.
Read more about børnefagligundersøgelse in §50 of Social Service Law (Serviceloven) at www.retsinformation.dk