Background and history
The County Social Welfare Boards (Boards) were established in January 1993 based primarily on the Norwegian Social Services Act (In Norwegian - lov om sosiale tjenester). Since December 2006, the rules of procedure for the board are based on the Child Welfare Act (In Norwegian - barnevernloven), chapter 7.
The boards replaced the municipal and elected Child Protection Councils / Health and Social Committees (In Norwegian barnevernsnemndene/helse- og sosialutvalgene) which, progressively had been exposed to considerable criticism, primarily for lack of due process. The justification and purpose for the boards is especially evidenced in The Social Services Act NOU 1985:18 (In Norwegian Lov om sosiale tjenester m.m). Under the question of a new decisional authority concerning compulsory cases in the area of child protection and drug/alcohol abuse, the committee divided itself in a majority and minority.
The majority proposed a new decision-making authority, the boards. It was pronounced that this authority had to comply, as closely as possible, with the following requisites:
- Have an independent and autonomous position with regard to the Social Services, the Provincial Governor and the National Ministry.
- The cases must be treated in accordance with the basic rules for Due Process as implemented by the Courts of Law.
- The decision-making authority must consist of a best possible combination of legal and social expertise, as well as the participation of a layman(s).
- It must be organized in such a way as the cases are decided effectively.
The committee’s minority proposed that the compulsory cases must be treated by the ordinary courts of law. The reason presented was that compulsory cases have an especially controversial character, and that the authority who makes decisions in these matters must be generally trusted by the population as the courts of law are, and that such trust cannot be obtained by any administrative body.
The Ministry of Social Affairs (In Norwegian Sosialdepartementet) agreed with the recommendations from the majority. In the proposition for the Social Services Act (Ot.prp. nr. 29 (1990-1991), (In Norwegian Lov om sosiale tjenester m.m.), it was emphasized that the boards must be independent administrative bodies, and similar to Courts of Law having expertise both in the fields of Child and Family Welfare, as well as in the judicial field. The boards function as a special court of law without having status as a formal court of law.
In this context, there is a point of reference to the Protection Councils (In Norwegian Vergerådene), which were instituted through the Protection Councils Act. This Act was adopted in 1896, and implemented in 1900. It is said to be the world’s first Child Welfare Act. The Protection Councils resulted from a reform of the penal legislation. The legislation elevated the lower age for criminal responsibility, and transferred the responsibility from criminal politics to social politics, for those children who had such behavioural difficulties that school and home stood «powerless». New correctional educational institutions (In Norwegian Oppdragelsesanstalter), were to replace prison penalty for those who were considered «depraved» (In Norwegian vanartede) for children who were under the lower age for criminal responsibility. These Protection Councils now had the decisional responsibility in the matter. They were given the responsibility to decide measures for the children who did not have care givers, or were given insufficient/bad care in their homes.
Prior to the institution of the councils, there was considerable discussion concerning whether the Protection Councils should be instituted, or whether the ordinary courts of law should be the authority to decide compulsory measures, such as placement in Correctional Educational institutions. As a result of the driving force for the establishment of the Protection Councils Act, Mr. Bernhard Getz (University Professor of Law and later General Prosecutor), the Protection Councils were instituted. They were to be a decision-making authority composed by persons having special «knowledge and insight» in this field, as opposed to the generalists composing the courts of law. The Protection Councils became, in many ways, special courts of law within the field of Child Protection and Welfare. Therefore, there is a clear line from the Protection Council’s to the present County Social Welfare Boards.