Every child in Sweden has the right to a safe, secure and bright future


Sweden has a long and proud history of promoting a good environment for children to grow up in, based on the best interests of the child. Every child and young person has the right to a safe, secure and bright future, to be properly cared for and to grow up in a home free from violence.

Reforms implemented in Sweden to protect the best interests of the child include universal and free maternal and child health care and preschool, and a prohibition on the corporal punishment of children. Some of these are uniquely Swedish initiatives that, early on, set a very high minimum level for how all children in Sweden should be treated. Children in Sweden have rights of their own. While children are their parents’ greatest duty and responsibility, they have rights of their own that are separate from the rights of parents. In Sweden, it is of the utmost importance to listen to the child, to respect the child and to be aware that what we do with and to the child affects them for the rest of their lives. 

In Sweden, parental support has long been available to help parents fulfil their parental responsibilities. They are entitled to home visits and help when they experience difficulties. No parents are perfect, but the vast majority of them can be good parents; some just need help to get there, and it is society’s collective responsibility to help them fulfil their parenting responsibilities. That is why social services exist; they were created to provide help and support to parents and legal guardians who need it. 

Social services provide support to children and adults alike

Social services are society’s last-resort safety net. Swedish social services are responsible for ensuring that children and young people receive the support they need during their childhood, but also that parents and legal guardians receive support in their parenting role if they need it. Social services are responsible for protecting children who are maltreated or at risk of maltreatment. This is an extremely important but difficult responsibility. The best interests of the child must always be the guiding principle. If children and young people are at risk, society has a responsibility to ensure that they receive the protection and support they need. The best interests of the child must always take precedence over the interests of the biological parents. 

Social services operate in all municipalities and employ social workers with specialised knowledge of children’s needs. Many families receive help from social services. Ordinarily, an agreement is reached on the type of support that best suits the family. For example, high-conflict families can receive help from someone who is good at helping families solve these kinds of problems. Parents are also entitled to receive parenting counselling. Children may be able to get a contact person or meet other children in the same situation.

Convention on the Rights of the Child is the starting point of all efforts

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been incorporated into Swedish law, is very clear. The best interests of the child must always be taken into account in all decisions and measures affecting them. The principle of ‘the best interests of the child’ is the cornerstone of the Convention. The best interests of the child must be determined in each individual case and consideration must be given to the child’s own opinion and experience, but the State is always responsible for protecting the child from neglect, exploitation and abuse. The State, regions and municipalities must ensure the rights of the child under the Convention. 

The best interests of the child are always the aim

If it is not appropriate for the child to live at home, it may be necessary for them to live somewhere else for a time. The child may, for example, stay with another family (foster home), or in a home for care or residence. Even in such a situation, parents have the right to receive support from social services. For example, parents can get help to develop their parenting skills. The aim is always to ensure the best possible situation for the child.

Voluntariness is the first alternative

Swedish social services activities are governed primarily by the Social Services Act, which is based on the principle of voluntariness. If social services receive information about a child being maltreated or at risk of maltreatment, they must assess the child’s need for support and protection. They will then propose measures that can improve the situation for the family and the child. In most cases, the family and social services agree on a way forward. 

When the child does not get the help they need

If voluntary measures are not possible, the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act makes it possible in certain cases to decide on measures without the consent of the parents or the child. Deciding that the child cannot remain with their biological parents is a last resort, and the decision can only be made if, for example, the child’s safety is in danger. This could be the case, for example, if one of the parents has mental ill-health or an addiction, or if the child is exposed to violence or other abuse. Unfavourable conditions must be deemed to lead to a palpable risk to the child’s health or development, and a further requirement is that care cannot be provided on a voluntary basis. Whether a child or a young person needs to be taken into care is determined by a court, but if the child needs to be protected and urgently placed in another home, social services can decide to have them taken into care immediately. A court will then examine the case and issue its decision. A compulsory care order must always be based on the needs of the child.

Foster homes are available when a child cannot stay at home

When a child needs another home, the first option is that they stay with a relative or other person close to the child. If this is not possible, there are other families that can take the child into their home. These homes are called foster homes. 

Social services always assess a foster home by conducting interviews and home visits, and  contacting people who know the family. When a foster home is approved, the municipality considers whether that particular home is able to care for the particular child in need. 

Social services work consistently to examine, assess and develop care for children to ensure that children who need to be placed in other homes will have stable, orderly and secure conditions on a long-term basis. The child’s right to a secure environment takes precedence over the parents’ right to get their children back. 

Disinformation makes it more difficult for children who need help and protection

It is against this background of how the Swedish system works that Sweden reacts so strongly to incorrect information (disinformation) on how Sweden treats children. Disinformation has spread globally in social and other media for a long time, often including claims that social services “kidnap” children without a legal basis. Disinformation is also spreading about that Sweden systematically discriminates against families for no reason whatsoever. This is false. Sweden does not kidnap children; social services do not kidnap children. Sweden stands up for the child’s own rights, regardless of where they come from, their parents’ faith, beliefs and origins, and their views on Swedish law.

Disinformation is dangerous. It is dangerous for social workers who are threatened and defamed on social media, and their important work to protect children in Sweden is hampered. But above all, it is dangerous for the children who need help when their parents are not able to fulfil their responsibilities, and who may not receive it because of this. 

Political decisions to strengthen the protection of children and counter disinformation 

  • The National Board of Health and Welfare has previously been tasked with proposing measures to build long-term trust for social services among children, young people and families who need support and assistance.
  • In February 2023, the National Board of Health and Welfare received an enhanced mandate to counter rumours and disinformation about social services. At the same time, the Government tasked the Psychological Defence Agency with strengthening its ability to counter malign influence campaigns.
  • On 18 April 2023, the Government instructed the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention to identify and analyse attempts to influence elected representatives, political parties and decision-making bodies.
  • The Inquiry on the importance of safety, security and continuity for children at risk presented its final report in January 2023. Proposals include clearer rules on when the custody of a child placed in a foster home should be transferred to the foster parents. The report also proposes amendments to the Children and Parents Code to increase protection for children when the issue arises of access with a parent who has been violent. The Inquiry’s report is now being circulated for comment and will then be processed at the Government Offices.
  • On 31 October 2023, the Inquiry on children and young people in the care of society will submit its final report. Its remit is to review and propose measures for enhancing the quality of care for children and young people placed in foster homes, emergency foster homes, supported housing and homes for care or residence, etc.
  • The Inquiry tasked with reviewing reinforced processing by social services of reports of concern and child case files presented its final report on 8 May 2023. It included an analysis and proposals regarding increased information to social services aimed at improving the protection of children.
  • The Inquiry on the right of the child to file complaints and demand their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child will deliver its final report on 28 August 2023.
  • The National Board of Health and Welfare and the Swedish Police Authority have a joint remit to conduct a three-year development project on the issue of unaccompanied minors who go missing. The purpose of the assignment is to increase knowledge in this area, and develop coordinated and long-term sustainable working methods to prevent the disappearance of children. The Inquiry is required to submit its final report in October 2025 and interim reports in 2023 and 2024.