25 March 2014

The Child Protection Service: Report from a meeting in the autumn of 2013

By Jorgen Stueland, lawyer


The writer is a practicing lawyer based in Raufoss north of Oslo in Norway. (Norwegian name form Jørgen Stueland.) This article highlights the issues concerning child protection as practiced in Northern Europe.
   The article was first published in Free Malaysia Today on 1 February 2014, as
Child protection: The Norwegian way
The writer illustrates that when it comes to child protection issues, the Norwegian authorities are no different from the Swedes

   Its publication in Malaysia was in connection with a case running in Sweden which drew a lot of publicity in Malaysia, involving as it did a Malaysian family.

The article is published here with the author's kind consent.

A Norwegian version was published in Oppland Arbeiderblad on 18 January 2014, as
Kronikk: Rapport fra et møte høsten 2013.


The case: The County Committee for Child Welfare and Social Matters
is to decide whether the care of two children, 6 and 7 years old, shall be taken over by the authorities in accordance with the Children Act Section §4-12.

The theatre stage scenery: A meeting room, about twenty square metres in size. In the middle at one end, somewhat like a throne, a long writing desk with three seats. The Committee's chairman will sit in the middle, on his right an appointed, ordinary member, on his left an expert member. To the left of the desk seating the three Committee members there are four desks for the private parties and their lawyers. On the right of the Committee chairman, the ordinary member and the expert member there are two desks, one for the representative of the Child Welfare Services and one for the municipality's lawyer.

In the middle of the room is a desk where witnesses, having been sworn in to tell the complete and absolute truth and not hide or omit anything that may be relevant for the case, and having been informed of the criminal liability of lying in their explanation, will sit down and start to give their evidence. In other words, the desks in the room form a horseshoe, witnesses in the middle.

Act 1.
Exactly at 9am, a door opens, the Committee chairman and his two co-conspirators make their entry into the room and everybody gets up. The Committee chairman invites everyone to sit down. After a short opening statement from the Committee chairman, clarifying practical and legal procedure, the municipality's lawyer is called on for his opening lecture. He brings forward the case documents considered by the municipality to be of relevance for clarification of the case. Then he explains which witnesses the municipality will call and what the evidence of the witnesses will be.

Then follows my opening statement, in which I bring forward the case documents and statements I believe weaken the municipality's case. I also explain which witnesses I will call and what evidence they are expected to give.

Next come the depositions of the parties and witnesses: A cocksure executive officer of the municipality gives evidence. A shaking Kurdish mother comes next, she stutters and is completely devastated. A confused and traumatised father gives evidence, he is unable to understand what he is taking part in, what it is that has led to this, how the Norwegian system has taken away his beloved, beautiful, wonderful children. Further witnesses are called, one by one. Some are completely sure of themselves, some utterly nervous.

The last program on the agenda consists of the arguments of the two lawyers. The municipality lawyer is in no doubt, nor is that his job. The parents spank, the parents abuse, the parents are dangerous for their children. Visiting rights should according to him be limited to two hours four times a year (!).

Then comes my turn. I begin by saying that if the municipality's version is correct, there are clearly grounds for taking the children away from the parents. But IS that version correct? The case has been built up by young girls, who have scraped by in secondary school with mediocre results and often choose to study child protection social work (called "child protection pedagogics" in Norway) because they have no chance of getting into medical studies or psychology. PROBLEM: The power of these girls. They are set to make decisions which are life-changing for the families concerned. When they decide that a taking into care should take place, the system is constructed in such a way that the case has already been won by their side.

Act 2.
Mother's mind. Missing the children has dug deep for a long time. The children were taken by high-speed emergency decision on the 16 May 2013. Since then, the children have been allowed to meet their mother - mother, who has been the major person caring for the girls since they were born - for one hour each fortnight. She is their queen. Their Mary. Their anchor. On the sixteenth of May - that is getting close to three fourths of a year ago - they were torn away from her. Mother has been destroyed. Her life is over if she loses her children now. The children's lives may be over too. For the Child Welfare Services are NOT a perfect "caregiver". All too many children in their care have their lives ruined. Foster homes give up. New foster homes. They are moved to institutions. They start doing drugs. They get involved in crime. Norway has never understood what the biological principle is really about: Take away mother and father, and the children's life from there on is a very uncertain gamble.

This case is also about culture. The family is Kurdish. With other customs, other ways. Different language. Different ways of raising children. Challenges in trying to understand Norwegian ways. Challenges in trying to understand what the Child Welfare Services mean when they come with their technical terms. The children are in the process of losing all their Kurdish language now. A human right is violated. They live with a Norwegian, Christian family. One day the Child Welfare Services called up and asked if it was ok for the children to eat pork. Just one example showing that understanding of other cultures is seriously deficient. The ignorance of the Child Welfare Services leads to offensive, racist casework.

We won the case before the County Committee for Child Welfare and Social Matters. The parents were believed. But the municipality will not give in. At Christmas they appealed and at the same time applied for a staying order, which means a postponement so that the children are not to be returned to the parents before the case has reached a final, legally binding decision. The District Court approved the municipality's request for a staying order. So the children cannot go home for Christmas, although the decision from the County Committee said they should.

These are my kind of people, the ones I will fight for and fight for, all the way through: Children and parents separated from each other based on deplorable, flimsy and superficial case work.