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Government – an infantile parent; data from researchers on the matter – Daniel Hammarberg

Government – an infantile parent; data from researchers on the matter – Daniel Hammarberg

Here I will present a number of interesting quotes and statistics from the evaluation of the Swedish social services. Since this is a topic that could potentially stretch a whole lot longer length than an ordinary blog post, I will limit myself to a single man whose research, even though he’s apparently an ardent believer in the social welfare state, nevertheless has highlighted its many shortcomings. If this data is of interest, there may be follow-ups later on.

The background: In Sweden, a mammoth institution called the social services manages welfare payouts, child welfare, social care for troubled youth and juvenile delinquents, addiction treatment, and a host of other things. Bo Vinnerljung is a professor in social work, working at the National Board of Health and Welfare, who’s studied something that’s been quite neglected within the social services: the long-term outcome for people placed into care, with his doctor’s thesis entitled “Foster Children as Adults.” Though working for the government and endorsing the system, he’s still somewhat critical when it comes to certain philosophies, such as the ever-present belief in the inescapability of social inheritance; while the government feels it can rule out the possibility that individuals from dysfunctional homes can still make a future for themselves, Vinnerljung doesn’t.

From “Into adulthood” 2007:

The Swedish social services is well-known for monitor children very closely; the following is about investigations concerning the behaviour of adolescents:

“Studies in this field have found that around 6% of all teenagers in the country – approximately two in every school class – are reported to the Social Services annually”

I wonder how trivial information that’s being circulated here. This and this student talked back to the teacher?

“Young people who had entered care during adolescence had the worst outcomes of all subgroups. They had over four-fold higher risks of entering adulthood with only a basic education. Between 15% and 20% of all girls became teenage mothers – compared with less than 3% among majority population peers. However, both studies were unable to discriminate between teenagers placed for behavioural problems and for other reasons.”

So the group that to a large extent included teenagers who were not criminally active still faced a negative outcome. Though one can’t rule out that reasons for which the children were taken into care had an impact, wasn’t the care supposed to remedy that?

“Sweden has a long tradition of national registers with high-quality data for health and socio-economic indicators. These registers are based on the individually unique 10-digit personal number that follows every Swedish resident from birth (or date of immigration) to death.”

I just love the government keeping such a journal over me. I remember a couple of years ago when Karolinska Institutet wanted me to participate in a study on the heritability of a certain intestinal disorder that I’m not sure how to translate into English, because I had suffered from that as an infant. What’s really funny is that I didn’t even know the name of it, the only memory I had of it was the surgical tissue that’s still visible. The government still kept a record of me having had this surgery some 25 years earlier though.

On page 8 of this article, the two authors have compiled an “outcomes ladder,” based on what proportion of the population had met certain negative criteria such as being in prison and similar. Only 8.2% of boys placed for behavioural problems were doing well at age 25, and 27.5% of the ones placed for other reasons, compared to an estimated 70% of boys and 80% of girls that didn’t enter care. For the ones sentenced to secure youth care, the outcome was as bad as it could get:

“The results for young people placed in secure units were dismal. At age 25, 70% had been in prison or were dead. Not a single one (0%) was ‘doing well’, if all negative indications in the outcome ladder were included.”

That’s indeed great proof that the 4-5’000 crowns per person and day (about ten times as much as an inmate costs at a US prison) spent on secure youth care doesn’t accomplish anything whatsoever. You truly know your policies are a failure when you don’t have a single success story to show for it.

These figures are very alarming when you consider the fact that the Swedish state is so very keen on taking children and youth into care when it’s simply not warranted. A couple of quotes from “Child Welfare in Sweden – an overview” by Sven Hessle and Bo Vinnerljung:

“Swedish child welfare legislation makes no strict distinction between child protection and youth justice. Asocial behaviour of young people under 20 is a child welfare problem, outside the realms of criminal justice. Neither are there organisational dividing lines between different means of intervention. Local authorities shall mainly work with social support to and in partnership with families, regardless of the age of the children or the reason for intervention.”

In this country, troubled teenagers are sometimes placed at the same institutions as murderers and rapists.

“Time series data reveals that the use of foster care has decreased continually the last 13 years, from 72% of all initiated placements in 1983 to 55% 1995, while placements in different forms of residential care have increased (from 28% to 45%). This trend, valid for all age groups, cannot be explained by changes in the care population. Age and gender patterns have been remarkably stable throughout this period. The development of the care system has taken a path in the opposite direction of eg in Britain, contrary to the intentions of national policy makers and cost wise from cheap to expensive care”

“Even though follow-up studies usually is depressing literature (ibid.), placements have increased since since 1994.”

“The proportion of compulsory/voluntary care can vary a lot between countries. In a comparison, the figure for compulsory care in Sweden is 20 times that of Japan (Hessle, et al, 1996)”

Finally he lists the reasons for taking teenagers into care. Out of the ones taken for “behavioural problems,” only 1 in 3 had committed a crime, and only 1 in 6 a violent crime. The majority were only guilty of vaguely defined school-related problems.

In Sweden, the government truly cares about you.. well, at least it’s happy to put you into care.

For a more thorough study of Swedish society, see my book “The Madhouse” up at

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Daniel Hammarberg

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