The growing number of tragedies resulted by forced confiscation of children in Norway has gained global attention. However, great efforts and mobilisation are required to improve the situation.
The Norwegian Child Welfare Agency, Barnevernet, removes around 1500 children from their parents every year.This amounts to around 4 children per day all year round. But in reality, so many parents who have shown gross neglect, that triggers child welfare laws, do not exist in Norway. The result of the arbitrariness of the power of Barnevernet to remove children and place them with strangers is many tragedies. Children get traumatised, and some parents and children even take their lives.
Barnevernet as it works today is a disaster and there has been little will to clean it up. For many years, there have been different groups of people who have been victims of abuse by Barnevernet or felt they have been victimised by it; and their friends, some politicians and others in the community who have seen what has happened have protested their treatment by Barnevernet. Victims and their supporters occasionally arranged meetings and demonstrations. But the media follow up was poor, and the protests did not generate mass support.
But in recent years we have begun to see light at the end of the tunnel. Increasingly, people are joining Facebook groups to protest against Barnevernet. Public demonstrations have attracted over 1000 people, which is large for Norway. Some lawyers, psychologists and other professionals connected with the child protection field have expressed their concern to the Norwegian authorities about the conditions at Barnevernet.
Perhaps the breakthrough may come in the next few years. A total of nine cases pertaining to Barnevernet have been accepted by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Until now, the major protests against Barnevernet have come from abroad. It is noteworthy that great efforts and mobilisation are required to improve child welfare in Norway. I have helped to the best of my ability with advice to foreign politicians and others, articles in foreign newspapers and joining demonstrations outside the Norwegian embassies abroad.
We need a child welfare service, but a child welfare that does not hold a professional goal of removing children from parents, and which does not ignore the parents and close family of the child. Child welfare is necessary to help families with problems. Occasionally,as an absolute last resort, where there is a serious neglect of care, such as serious substance abuse, gross violence, or sexual abuse, it becomes necessary to remove children from their parents. However, in most cases where children are removed from their biological parents, a subjective assessment by employees in child welfare is justified with an airy claim, often made on purely psychological theories,that the parents have “lack of care abilities”.Many children are removed from their parents on very thin grounds, which causes serious trauma and injuries for both children and parents.
Children should only be removed from the biological parents if there is a serious care failure. If the parents are assessed, on realistic grounds (Barnevernet must be required to give concrete proof that this is so) to have “lack of care abilities” they should be corrected through help measures in the home, thus strengthening their families. The relief measures must be real relief measures, and not motivated by a desire to spy on parents with a view to future child transfer. Emergency decisions to remove children should only be used in cases where there is an immediate danger to the children in remaining with their parents.
When it is necessary to remove children from parents, the child welfare service should always be made to find new caregivers among relatives of the parents, whom the children know from before, and with whom they have a relationship already. In the case of children being removed from their parents, there must be an absolute requirement that brothers and sisters should not be separated, but should live with the same foster parents. Twins should under no circumstances be placed with different foster parents.
Parents whose children are in care of the Barnevernet should have the opportunity to meet the children on a regular basis, at least once a month, unless the children refuse to meet them. They should be given sufficient time to spend with the children. Placement in foster homes must be viewed as temporary arrangements, and the children should be returned to their biological parents if the parents can demonstrate that they have changed the circumstances or behaviour which was a block to the children living at home so that itno longer posesa threat to the children, and the children themselves do not protest against such reunification.
Jan Simonsen was a Member of Parliament in Norway for 16 years, and has been a member of the Council of Europe’s Committee for Legal Affairs and Human Rights
The Global Child Rights and Wrongs series is published in collaboration with www.saveyourchildren.in, lawyer Suranya Aiyar’s website critiquing the role of governments and NGOs in child-related policy