February 5, 2012

The assessments made by the Norwegian child protection service (CPS)

By Marianne Haslev Skånland


An earlier edition of this article in Norwegian,
Barnevernets bedømmelser, was written as a newspaper article and published in Gjengangeren in Horten on 19 July 2004. It has later been published on the website BarnasRett, placed in the file Kari Killén - sentral leverandør av lærebøker og foredrag til de barne"faglige" profesjonene, and also on NKMR.

The article is but slightly revised here.
The translations of quotes from Norwegian into English are mine.


A possible starting point for an analysis of the Norwegian child protection agency (CPS, Norw. 'barnevernet') is found in what their text-books say. Kari Killén's book
Sveket. Omsorgssvikt er alles ansvar ("Betrayed. Care failure is everybody's responsibility"), 2nd edition 1994, Oslo: Kommuneforlaget, is particularly well-known. This book sells very well to students at the numerous social work courses around Norway and has apparently been translated into some dozen other languages, probably to be used as a text-book for social workers in other countries.

I have looked at a newer edition of the book. The fact that the recommendations it makes which I discuss in this article have not been changed since 1994 is probably a realistic example of the state of social work in Norway.

The book abounds in uncritical claims and allegations, e.g about the prevalence of abuse and about signs of abuse, about the ability to provide child care, symptoms of care failure and demonstration of such failure, about attachment to foster-parents and lack of attachment to parents.

In a short article like this one, a couple of examples must suffice:

Many of the people who themselves approach the CPS asking for help, are in a difficult financial situation. But CPS workers are instructed fairly clearly not to assist them with economic relief (p 497):

"Parents should be made to get involved regarding the reduction of outer strains, e.g economic problems and housing problems. To solve the problems is bad care [bad social work]."

The book then goes on to say that the CPS should "direct" or "guide" the client towards problem-solving. This is unrealistic social work to say the least.

Regardless of what it was that occasioned the initial contact of a family with the CPS, the CPS are eager in their search for possible "care failure" and they hold a blind faith in their ability to assess it. The following is one of the ways in which their diagnostic work proceeds (p 306):

"It is often necessary for us to deliberately frustrate the parents to make it possible to evaluate this very important function. If parents show very limited capacity for frustration toleration when we are present, we have to doubt how it functions in a situation without social control, when nobody else is present except the parents and the child."

On this point it is probably clear to most of us that:

1: What the text-book recommends here is for a social worker to carry out provocations in order to get parents to lose patience and crack up;

2: No, for every human being it is, on the contrary, natural to be more calm and patient when secure and protected by privacy than when being subjected to observation and assessment from outsiders. (Having a private life and having it respected is biologically healthy. The lack of this is central among the factors which cause the tragedies that are so frequent among foster children.)

3: It is of course especially upsetting to be attacked by public servants who pretend to be helping but who behave in an impolite and frightening manner and who experiment with us when they have us in their power.

4: It is particularly frightening for parents because they certainly understand that the threat of being separated from their own children is hanging over their heads the whole time.

5: The patience of parents towards their own children is based on their nature-given love for their children, not on social control. (That is also why the occurrence of abuse and neglect of children is far more frequent in all other environments than it is in the child's home with its own parents.)

6: To subject parents to "assessment" by means of inflicting "frustration" is torture; it falls under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Such degrading and pain-inflicting treatment of the citizens of a country is punishable by law. The fact that the Norwegian state does not punish these criminals but carries out the inhuman and degrading treatment itself, does not lessen the seriousness of the offences.

The pain and stress which parents are placed under by such methods can completely destroy individuals. CPS people apparently do not understand that they are not observing objectivly but, on the contrary, are themselves creating an abnormal situation, as well as a strain which can end in pushing the victims over the cliff edge. This places their actions not only as unethical but also as the opposite of scientifically based. Their "methods" give a blue-print of how
not to carry out valid investigations.


Except in cases of real and serious abuse of children, the CPS must (as must also the superficial and irresponsible participants in court decisions) have their powers of ordering removal of children from their parents quashed. When this power is removed, the quality of other CPS measures, called "aid" to families, will also be brought out into daylight. In the present situation, many measures are imposed on families who find these measures meaningless but who dare not protest or make it public: They know that if they do, their children will be taken from them.