Mr. Jan Simonsen, a personal friend of EAL Convenor Jan-Aage Torp since 1999, was a member of Stortinget (Norway´s Parliament) for 16 years, as well as a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in the Council of Europe. Simonsen has sent us this article for re-publication. It was first published in the Prague Post on January 8th.
Jan Simonsen and Jan-Aage Torp together at Jan-Aage´s 50th birthday celebration (photo credits: Tor H. Lanton)The Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest has published a fairly long statement about the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (Barnevernet) on its webpage.
It’s probably the same information other Norwegian embassies spread to various countries, including the Czech Republic.
This statement is inaccurate and in part downright untrue. It is aimed at showing a rosy picture of a system which is felt by thousands of Norwegians as abusive and has triggered large demonstrations not only in Bucharest and other European capitals but in Norway too.
The Embassy writes: “In 2014, approximately 53,000 children received measures from the child welfare service in Norway. More than eight out of 10 of these cases were voluntarily assistive measures for children and families.”
The number of children receiving assistance from the Child Welfare Services is of course completely irrelevant in relation to the problem: that many children in Norway are taken away from their parents.
The statistics of The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs show that 11,200 children and young individuals lived in Norwegian foster homes in 2014. In the course of the year 1,665 children were taken from their parents involuntarily. Every day around the year, then, 3 - 4 children are taken from their parents.
Jan Simonsen speaking at Jan-Aage´s 50th birthday celebration (photo credits: Tor H. Lanton)The Embassy writes that an order for transfer of care is issued by a special Norwegian court or an ordinary court, “and only when the child is subject to serious neglect, maltreatment or abuse,” and adds that “Placing a child outside the home without the parents’ consent is always a measure of last resort.”
This is a serious allegation, indirectly implying grave accusations against the parents, who have scant possibilities of defending themselves. In a case against a Czech mother, her going to the media with her case was used against her in the appeal court.
The Embassy’s claim that children are only taken from their parents when there is “serious neglect, maltreatment or abuse” is so far from the truth that it may be characterized as a serious lie.
Several hundred cases were examined by Doctor of Science Åge Simonsen, whose conclusion was that few of the transfers of care were motivated in real care failure, rather they were done after a subjective assessment by a bureaucrat in the Child Welfare Services that the parents “lacked in ability to care.”
They were not evaluated as able enough to be parents.
This also actually agrees with the statistics of the Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, statistics of the 20 most frequent reasons why the Child Welfare Services take action. At the top of the list we find “The parents lack in parenting abilities.” In an interview with the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, lawyer Thea Totland says that she has noted over the last few years increasingly many cases in which there is no question of evident care failure, “but that the ability to care is judged on the basis of opinion and on the basis of a number of demands which many are not able to fulfill” (my translation).
Many Norwegian lawyers are in agreement with Totland’s assessment.
What, then, are the demands posed by the Child Welfare Services as diagnostic for parents not having sufficient ability to raise their children?
Jan Simonsen speaking at Jan-Aage´s 50th birthday celebration (photo credits: Tor H. Lanton)Professor Marianne Skånland is probably the person in Norway who has for the longest period of years monitored our Child Welfare Services with critical eyes and has studied the field most thoroughly.
In an article she lists arguments used by the child protection agencies in Norway and the other Nordic countries saddled with the same official system. From 69 examples I have selected five as representative:
The psychologist registered that the mother could not make an omelet to his satisfaction and she cuts the bread into too thick slices.
The child looks eagerly at strangers around it and smiles at them. This means that it is not attached to its mother.
The baby turns its face the wrong way when its father washes it.
The mother wants to let the children’s grandmother bring them to and from physiotherapy and other medical treatment which they need, instead of taking them herself. In this the mother puts her own interests before the children’s.
When visiting the children the grandmother wanted to embrace them. The CPS had to stop that, since it can create an unwanted attachment.
The Embassy writes that “Parents are entitled to a due process, including a lawyer paid for by the government, the right to be heard and the right to appeal the decision.”
On paper that is correct. But the judicial process is illusory. Case law shows that it never succeeds. Norwegians lawyers confirm that this is so.
While the cases run in the courts, the children are in the hands of foster parents, and the Child Welfare Services therefore advance as an argument against the biological parents that the children have adapted to their new “parents” and that it would be traumatic for them to be torn away from their new environment.
This argument is maintained even more strongly with time and is approved by the courts.
In sum, it must be said that in most cases the Child Welfare Services take children from their parents on the basis of a subjective judgment of “lack of ability to care”, with very flimsy arguments.
The attitude right from the start is that the major responsibility for our children is the prerogative of the state, not of the parents. Parents and children are daily subject to these abusive actions from the Child Welfare Services.
They affect both Norwegian parents and foreign parents in Norway. Even the children of asylum seekers, children who have been confiscated by the Norwegian Child Welfare Services, are kept on permanently with Norwegian foster parents, whereas their parents are expelled from Norway.
In the wake of the Child Welfare Services we have seen human catastrophes, destroyed families, and in some cases parents who have taken their own lives or have ended up as drug abusers in their desperation over having lost that which is most precious to them. A report from the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research shows that foster children in Norway take their lives eight times as frequently as other children do.
This is the truth of the Norwegian Child Welfare Services which the Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest has not wanted to inform the Romanian public about.