Return to the past?

Norsk forbund for utviklingshemmede (NFU) is an organisation for
people with learning difficulties and their families. Established
in 1967, it has around 7,300 members, including 2,000 officers, in
19 counties and 240 local organisations. In Nordland County a
little over 1,000 people are classified as having learning
difficulties. Out of the 45 municipalities in Nordland, 23 have a
local branch of NFU.

NFU promotes improved living conditions for people with learning
difficulties. It campaigned for the disestablishment of
institutional care at the end of the 1980s. In Nordland, 400 people
with learning difficulties were living in county council
institutions when deinstitutionalisation started in 1985. The
normalisation of services, including housing and home help, has
been the guiding principle. People with learning difficulties have
the right to live in their own home and receive such help as is
needed to manage their daily lives and to take part in society. The
last county institution closed in 1991.

After 10 years, this is how things have improved:

– Living conditions have generally got better but not to the
standard that other disabled groups and the non-disabled population

– People with learning difficulties participate more in society
at all levels, but there is still much loneliness.

– There is more scope for individual choices and more individual
rights but the defence of personal rights is not good enough.

– More people receive help and more of their needs are met but
there are still substantial gaps in the services.

– The attitudes towards people with learning difficulties are
changing, with more tolerance and acceptance, but there is still
too much “group-thinking” and too little focus on individual

– More people are employed in the care services, but this is
still not enough.

– The care services are more professional, but qualified people
are too far removed from those who need their skills and

A strained municipal economy together with state financial
policy has led to the building of sheltered housing in large units,
grouping together all people who need assistance in daily living,
making it more efficient and cheaper. But help becomes standardised
and less focused on individual needs. This tendency is becoming so
dominant that NFU has warned of the reintroduction of institutions
in new forms.

NFU promotes the following criteria of quality:

– The individual must be able to choose where and how to

– The individual must be allowed to decide what kind of help is
needed and at what time it shall be given.

– As few people as possible shall work in the home.

Professionals who believe that it is important to empower the
people they serve, must learn to co-operate with user
organisations. Too often we hear the excuse that “we cannot talk
with one organisation because others would be left out”. That
attitude leads to dialogue with nobody. NFU in Nordland county is
now inviting professional organisations to discuss how the above
mentioned principles of quality can be introduced.

Gunn Strand Hutchinson is associate professor,
department of social sciences, Bodo Regional


– Norway (Norge) covers 325,000 sq km (slightly more than 1.3
times the size of the UK) and has a population of nearly 4.5m.

– Nordland County – one of 19 counties in Norway – provides
health and social services including seven general hospitals, a
psychiatric hospital, foster homes, drug rehabilitation
institutions, child care homes and foster parent service. The
health and social services sector is the county’s largest and
accounts for approximately 50 per cent of the yearly budget.

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