Report from the supervision of the City of Oslo's District of Østensjø follow-up of children in foster care 2014
The Office of the County Governor of Oslo and Akershus
Between 22 November 2013 and 28 April 2014 the Office of the County Governor of Oslo and Akershus (Fylkesmannen i Oslo og Akershus) performed a supervision of child welfare services in the Østensjø District (Bydel Østensjø).
The supervision covered the work of the child welfare service with children living in municipal foster care.
The supervision assessed:
- follow-up and control of the child’s situation in foster care,
- child participation,
- advice and guidance to foster parents.
One non-conformity was noted during the supervision:
The Østensjø District (Bydel Østensjø) does not ensure that the child’s situation in foster care is followed up and controlled in accordance with the requirements of the law.
Date: 28 April 2014
The report was drawn up following a system audit at the child welfare service of the Østensjø District in the period 4 March 2014 to 28 April 2014.
The supervision covered the work of the child welfare service with children living in foster care under the municipality, including follow-up of the child’s situation in the foster home, the child’s participation and advice and guidance to the foster parents. The supervision is part of the countrywide supervision that the County Governors will undertake in 2013 and 2014.
Section 2-3, subsection four, and Section 2-3 b of the Act relating to Child Welfare Services (the Child Welfare Act) give the Office of the County Governor authority to supervise the municipal child welfare service.
The objective of the system audit is to assess whether the organisation complies with the various legislative requirements in its internal control activities. The audit comprised assessing:
- what measures the organisation has implemented to detect, correct and prevent any violation of the law in the areas covered by the supervision,
- whether the measures are monitored in practice and, where necessary, corrected,
- whether the measures are adequate to ensure compliance with the legislation.
A system audit is performed by reviewing documents, carrying out interviews and other forms of investigation.
The preliminary report concerns any non-conformities and notes that were found during the audit and therefore does not provide a complete appraisal of the status quo as regards the organisation’s work within the areas covered by the supervision.
- Non-conformity is the failure to comply with requirements laid down in or in pursuance of the law or regulations.
- Notes refer to conditions that are not in conflict with requirements defined in or in pursuance of the law or regulations, but where the supervisory authority wishes to point out there is potential for improvement.
The Østensjø District is one of the 15 districts of the City of Oslo, and as at 1January2013 had 48000 residents. According to the 2013 annual report, the district administration has three general management departments and three departments covering different areas. The child welfare service is part of the Department for Welfare and Leisure.
The child welfare service consists of two units: the Child Welfare Office, which has 27.8 full-time equivalent positions and the Service for Follow-up and Child Welfare Measures (abbreviated as Ofot in Norwegian), which has 13 full-time equivalent positions. The two units report to the Head of Welfare and Leisure, who therefore holds authority as director of Child Welfare. The Office of the County Governor's supervision was directed at the Østensjø District, the Child Welfare Office.
In 2013 the child welfare service was strengthened with five new full-time equivalent positions in order to strengthen its services. Of these, 2.5 equivalent full-time positions came from extra funding provided by the central government to re-enforce services. Three equivalent full-time positions were allocated to the Child Welfare Office (two case officers and one new team leader), and the Service for Follow-up and Child Welfare Measures (Ofot) was allocated two equivalent full-time positions with a view to recruiting foster care homes.
In 2013 a total of 126 children in the district were in receipt of extra-familial measures. Of these, 48 children were in foster care.
According to the annual report, the child welfare service spent considerable time on internal quality-assurance efforts, both through the development of procedures and maintaining the service's internal control systems. From May and until the end of the year, the equivalent of 0.8 full-time position was provisionally dedicated to internal control, development of procedures and administration of the provision of services. It was recognised that there was a risk of inadequate follow-up of foster care and follow-up of cases involving child welfare measures, and the child welfare service wished to make its approach more systematic.
Work has also been done on professional development, with priority given to the child interview method, and training in the use of family councils. Three newly-hired employees have participated in the programme for newly-hired case officers run by the City of Oslo’s Agency for Child and Family Welfare Services. Furthermore, several professional development one-day seminars have been held. These have covered the topic of emotional attachment as well as recent research. The City Agency has held a two-day seminar on the topic of stress management and communication in difficult situations, and more work on this will be done through process development in 2014.
The system audit comprised the following activities:
The notification of the audit was sent on 22 November 2013. A list of the documents the organisation has sent to the auditors in connection with the supervision is supplied in the chapter Case documents.
The opening meeting was held on 4 March 2014.
Eight persons were interviewed on 4 and 5 March 2014.
The closing meeting was held on 7 March 2014.
A list of the documentation that was reviewed during the audit visit is provided in the chapter Case documents.
The supervision appraised whether the municipality has management measures that ensure that their follow-up and control of the child’s situation in municipal foster care is performed in accordance with the regulatory requirements set out in the Child Welfare Act. The Office of the County Governor also investigated whether the child’s right to participation is being ensured, and whether foster parents are given the advice and guidance they require.
The Østensjø District does not ensure that follow up and control of the child’s situation in foster care is performed in accordance with the requirements of the law.
The non-conformity is based on the following:
- The district has a quality assurance system that shall ensure sound services. The system shall ensure the existence of a common practice and that the requirements of the law are complied with through the implementation of risk analyses, procedures and quality assurance documents, non-conformity processing and improvements.
- The child welfare service has drawn up procedures and guidelines to ensure compliance with the legislative requirements governing the services’ work with following up children and foster parents after a child has been taken into care and placed in a foster home. The supervision has detected that the routines and procedures are not implemented in a manner that ensures that they are used by everyone in their practical day-to-day work.
- The child welfare service works according to a so-called generalist model. This entails that most of the case officers with duties regarding foster care also have duties related to investigations and measures.
- The district does not make sure that all the follow-up visits required by law are carried out. The semi-annual report for the second half-year of 2013 shows that 17 of 55 children (equalling 30% of children) did not have the number of follow-up visits required by law. Among the 20 cases reviewed during the supervision, four children were not given the follow-up visits they should have had.
- In 7 of the 15 cases that were reviewed during the supervision in which the child welfare service has taken the foster child into care, no conclusive care plan had been prepared within the statutory deadline (which is no later than two years from the time at which the child was taken into care).
- There is a system for non-conformity processing, but it is not much used.
- In a majority of the reviewed cases, a decision had been made to reduce the number of follow-up visits from a minimum of four to a minimum of two visits per year. We were not able to find any assessment of whether there was a need to raise the number of visits (after the required number of visits had been lowered), not even in cases where there are more than normal burdens for the foster child or the foster home, or where the foster parents have requested closer contact.
- The supervision revealed that the follow-up of foster care involves a considerable amount of discussions. There was, however, little written evidence of professional evaluations and conclusions from these discussions in the case documents.
- According to internal procedures the foster care contract shall be reviewed annually in connection with the first of the yearly visits to the foster home. However, there is no uniform practice to document that such a review has been carried out. Where we found references in records to the foster care contract having been reviewed there was no indication as to what had been discussed, or whether any conclusions had been drawn.
- In cases of voluntary placement we found that several of the action plans we reviewed lack an outline of whether measures have been carried out according to plan. Many of the reviewed cases also lacked an assessment of whether the measures and the targets that form part of the overall plan should be changed or kept as they are.
- The district administration fails to document adequately the degree to which children participate in processes.
- Several of the reviewed cases do not indicate whether the district’s child welfare service has provided for a private talk with the child in connection with visits to the foster home. Nor is there information in all cases as to whether the district’s child welfare officers inform the child, and attend to its wishes, in plans regarding the child’s future.
- In those cases in which there are summaries from the interviews with the foster child, there are several cases that lack any professional assessment of the information obtained from these talks.
Non-conformity with the following legislative requirements of laws and regulations has been found:
- Section 4-16 of the Child Welfare Act and Section 7 of the Regulation regarding Foster Care (follow-up and control of the child’s situation in foster care)
- Article 12 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and Sections 6-3 and 4-1, subsection two, of the Child Welfare Act (participation)
- Section 1-4 of the Child Welfare Act (requirement regarding reliability) and the requirement to good administrative practice
- Section 17 of the Public Administration Act (obligation to clarify the case)
- Section 6 of the Regulation regarding Foster Care (annual review of the foster home contract)
- Section 2-1, subsections one and two, of the Child Welfare Act, see the Regulations regarding Internal Control (the internal control obligation)
The district has a quality assurance system that is organised into a quality council, co-ordination groups, quality committees and quality groups. Among other tools, the district administration uses the quality management system Kvalitetslosen, and an annual cycle of work document in order to carry out checks that duties are performed in accordance with the legislative requirements. In the view of the Office of the County Governor this is a good framework for management and quality assurance.
The child welfare service has prepared procedures and guidelines to ensure compliance with the legislative requirements that govern the service’s work with following up children and foster parents after a child has been taken into care and placed in foster care. There is also a system for non-conformity reporting and checklists that shall ensure that processing of cases is in compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements. However, the supervision detected that the routines, procedures and non-conformity systems are not adequately implemented in the child welfare service.
The generalist model makes foster care follow-up vulnerable to risk. The Child Welfare Act requires that investigations be carried out within three months, and there is great emphasis in the service on this deadline being met. As a result, if investigations and implementation of child welfare measures are given priority in certain periods, this may result in there being less time to follow up the work involving foster care.
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989
The Act relating to Child Welfare Services of 17 July 1992 No. 100
The Act relating to Procedure in Cases concerning the Public Administration (the Public Administration Act) of 10 February 1967
The Regulations on Foster Care of 18 December 2003
The Regulations on Internal Control for the Municipality’s Duties of 14 December 2005 (in pursuance of the Child Welfare Act)
The organisation’s own documentation related to day-to-day operations and other relevant matters that were sent to the auditors during preparation for the audit:
- The organisation chart for the Østensjø District and its child welfare service
- Job descriptions for the child welfare service’s employees
- Various documents (powers of delegation)
- Staff lists for the child welfare service
- Job descriptions for the child welfare service’s staff
- Miscellaneous documents regarding newly-hired employees and follow-up of newly-hired employees
- Miscellaneous procedures, guidelines and checklists regarding follow-up of children placed in foster care, including procedures to ensure child participation in these processes
- Procedure for the work on plans for measures and care plans
- Plan for training and professional development 2013 and 2014
- List of all active foster care cases
- Selection of case documents in 20 foster care cases
- The district’s annual report for 2012 and 2013
Correspondence between the organisation and the Office of the County Governor:
- Letter of 22 November 2013 – notification of supervision
- Requested documents – sent on 18 December 2013
- E-mail of 18 December 2013 – sending of document list etc.
- Letter of 20 December 2013 – collection of case documents
- Letter of 10 January 2014 – programme for the supervision
- Letter of 13 January 2014 – sending of case documents
The table below lists the persons attending the opening and closing meetings, and the persons who were interviewed.
Not published here
The following individuals from the Office of the County Governor participated:
Gro Haugen Audit Leader
Nina Opland Auditor
Jan Faller Auditor