Individual and family care in Sweden

Municipalities have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that individual residents receive the support and assistance they need. Social services are responsible for care and service, information, advice, support, financial assistance and other assistance to families and individuals that need it. One part of the area of responsibility of social services is known as individual and family care.

Individual and family care within the activities of social services covers:

  • social care for children and young people,
  • substance abuse and dependency care,
  • social assistance,
  • certain family law issues,
  • support and assistance for the victims of crime, and
  • homelessness and exclusion from the housing market.

Social care for children and young people

The Social Services Act and the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act govern the work of social services on social care for children and young people. If social services become aware that a child is coming to harm, they must look into the child's situation and assess the need for measures. Social services offer measures and can, in some cases, intervene irrespective of whether consent has been given.

One example of measures is when a contact person or contact family is appointed to support and help the child or the child's family. Another example is an individually adapted and goal-oriented programme.

Children and young people may be placed in foster homes or homes for care or residence. Children and young people may be forcibly taken into care following a decision by an administrative court pursuant to the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act.

Substance abuse and dependency care

Under the Social Services Act, individual and family care shall offer various forms of support and treatment to people with substance abuse or dependency problems.

The national guidelines for substance abuse and dependency care set out by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) provide guidance when it comes to establishing which methods are evidence-based, i.e. based on proven knowledge.

Examples of measures offered by social services are dialogues focusing on motivation, cognitive behavioural therapy, 12-step programmes and self-control training. Social services may also offer measures for children and other relatives with substance abuse problems. These measures may take place in outpatient care centres or residential care centres.

Social services may decide to take someone into compulsory care. Compulsory care is regulated in the Care of Abusers (Special Provisions) Act and the Care of Young Persons Act.

National Board of Institutional Care

The National Board of Institutional Care (Statens institutionsstyrelse, SiS) is a government agency that organises individually adapted compulsory care and treatment for young people with serious psychosocial problems and adults with substance abuse problems. The National Board of Institutional Care also arranges institutional youth care.

Social assistance

Social assistance is to serve as a final safety net for those with short-term financial problems. Those wanting to apply for social assistance should contact individual and family care at social services, where an individual assessment will be made.

First and foremost, people are responsible for their own lives. This means trying to contribute to one's own upkeep and other needs before being entitled to assistance. Those who are able to work are obliged to look for a job.

People may receive social assistance for subsistence (subsistence allowance) or other needs, such as medication, dental care, glasses or home appliances.

The Social Services Act states what is included in subsistence allowance and that there shall be a national standard for a proportion of the costs. The national standard covers the costs of food, clothing and telephone, among other things, and is the same for everyone. The rest of the subsistence allowance covers reasonable costs of living, household electricity and home insurance, among other things.

The national standard sets the level of subsistence allowance within social assistance

The national standard forms the basis of the assessment for subsistence allowance, which is part of social assistance. Each year the Government sets the national standard. The amounts for the various items included in the national standard are based on price and consumer surveys carried out by the Swedish Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket, KO).

Certain family law issues

Within individual and family care, social services are also responsible for certain family law issues. One is confirming the paternity of children born to parents who are not married.

Social services can help parents who separate and cannot agree on custody, housing or access for children they have together. On request, social services can submit opinions on these issues to the district court.

Social services also prepare home study reports regarding consent for those wanting to adopt a foreign child.

Support and assistance for the victims of crime

In the Social Services Act the legislator highlights the special responsibility of social services to provide support to certain groups or people in certain situations. Examples of these are victims of crime and their families.

Particularly women who are or have been subjected to violence or other domestic abuse may be in need of support and help to change their situation. The social welfare committe in the municipality shall also pay particular attention to children who have witnessed violence or other abuses by or against adults close to them.

Homelessness and exclusion from the housing market

Homelessness is an issue concerning both social policy and housing policy. The responsibility is divided between social services, which have the ultimate responsibility for people who lack housing, and the municipal administrations, which are responsible for housing provision.

The social welfare committee has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that people's basic needs are met, which involves a special responsibility to promote housing needs, partly by working to ensure that people are provided with housing, but also by working to ensure they can keep the housing they are already in.

The term 'homeless' is commonly used to describe a person who is sleeping rough or has to use emergency accommodation or a hostel. The definition given by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) is broader and includes groups that have somewhere to stay, but that for various reasons are in a precarious housing situation.

One example is when a person is in prison or has been admitted to a treatment unit or supported accommodation within social services, a county council or some other care provider and does not have any accommodation arranged before being discharged.

The National Board of Health and Welfare reviews the quality of health and social care

The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) is the expert and supervisory authority for the activities carried out by the social services. Read more about the supervisory role of the National Board of Health and Welfare under the link Social services in Sweden.

Complaints about individual and family care (social services)

Decisions taken

Ultimately, the social welfare committee in each municipality is responsible for all decisions on assistance taken by social services. Anyone who is dissatisfied with a decision taken by the municipality may appeal to a court of law.

If you have requested help from social services you are always entitled to a decision in writing, with instructions for how to appeal, so that you are able to appeal a decision with which you are dissatisfied.

If you are dissatisfied with how you have been treated by social services or how the matter has been dealt with, you may also contact the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), which is the agency that supervises the municipality's social services. Read more about complaints under the link Social services in Sweden.

Reporting incorrect or unfair treatment by an authority

If you feel that you have been treated incorrectly or unfairly by an authority, you can file a complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsmen.

The Parliamentary Ombudsmen (Riksdagens ombudsmän, JO) are tasked with ensuring that central and local government authorities follow laws and ordinances.

The Parliamentary Ombudsmen can criticise a public authority or an individual official and, in special cases, bring legal action against an official suspected of misconduct or some other breach of duty. The Ombudsmen cannot, however, change a municipal decision or a court judgment.

Relevant rules and documents

Social Services Act (2001:453)

Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act (1990:52)

Care of Abusers (Special Provisions) Act (1988:870)