8 February 2016

The child protection employees –
do they deserve criticism?

by Jan Simonsen

Jan Simonsen has been a member of the Norwegian parliament for Fremskrittspartiet (The Progress Party). He was a parliamentary member for 16 years, and has also been a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe for 4 years, serving on The Committe for Human Rights and Legal Affairs. Simonsen was for two years vice-chairman of Fremskrittspartiet, and is today a member of the central committee of a smaller party, Demokratene (The Democrats). He has published four books on different themes, and runs several web sites.

The present article was originally published in Norwegian on 1 February 2016 as
De barnevernansatte - fortjener de kritikk? in Firda, which is a local newspaper covering Naustdal and other districts in the western part of Norway.

The translation is published here with the kind consent of the author.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland


Five children in Naustdal municipality were in mid November moved from their parents and were placed in three different foster homes. The basis was an emergency decision due to a message of concern from the school to the local child protection service (CPS) saying that the parents made use of Christian discipline in their child rearing. The case has led several tens of thousands of people to demonstrate against the Norwegian CPS – Barnevernet – in more than 20 cities all over the world, as far away from Naustdal as Ottawa, Melbourne, Washington DC and New Delhi.

In Naustdal, the CPS are holding matters close to their chest. The employees are obliged to obey a rule of confidentiality. This is also the
major reason why there is so little debate about the CPS in Norway, and why the media do not dare to direct a properly critical light to Barnevernet's practice. Their opinion is that they lack sufficient insight for a properly objective picture. It is a closed system.

The answer given to international media by Norwegian CPS and by Norwegian authorities, both in this case and in corresponding cases which have caused a stir abroad, is that Barnevernet only takes children away from their parents in the absolutely last resort, when absolutely necessary, in connection with grave care failure, violence or abuse. Such an answer of course contributes to throwing serious suspicion on parents who lose their children.

When the press in addition relates that the parents in Naustdal are reported to the police accused of violence against the children, many people will believe that these are bad parents. But is this so? Or does Barnevernet have a practice out of every reasonable proportion to the facts? Is Barnevernet causing more harm to the children than they are helping the children?

Violent parents?

According to the police lawyer Sissel Kleiven in the police district of Sogn og Fjordane County, the parents have admitted "the use of violence as a means of child raising". But she explicitly says that it is not a case of the violence having led to physical harm. The parents said the same in an interview by Romanian TV. They had used light physical punishment, they admitted openly. Would they have said that if it had been more serious than light slaps on the bottom and holding the children's ears? Certainly not. The danger of a collapse to their case if they had lied about it, would have been too great.

Smacks on the bottom and light twisting of an ear were completely normal in child raising in Norway just a few years ago, and in my own childhood, and is common in many countries. But punishable in our country now. Should it not, then, be punished with a fine, or at worst with a suspended prison sentence? Is it reasonable in addition to remove the children, the most beloved of all that a mother and a father have? And not least: Is it reasonable to punish the children, who most likely experience being torn apart from their parents as far more traumatic than being spanked on their bottom? Besides, that practice could have been stopped by the CPS having a serious talk with the parents, taking them to task.

Around in Europe, Norway has previously been considered a humane nation fighting for human rights. Now a picture emerges of a brutal nation with a system called Barnevernet, which is cold, cruel and inhumane, a system destroying families instead of helping them. "Barnevernet" has become a term of abuse. Rightly so.

CPS employees in Naustdal get angry mails and telephones. They should put up with this. The decision is after all of their doing. But they are not to be a lone target of criticism. They have probably just followed rules and ordinary practice, based on the education and training they have received. Common sense is long gone from this closed system, not only in Naustdal.

Strangely enough, few Norwegian media have written about that which should be sensational news: That within the same month, there are demonstrations against Norway in Tallinn, Vilnius, London, Dublin, Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen, Prague, Washington, Ottawa, Melbourne, and New Delhi, as well as in Bucharest and several other cities in Romania. The largest demonstration in Romania drew 9000 participants. In Prague, where I myself took part and held an appeal, 700 people took part, few of them Evangelical Christians.

Norwegian child protection seen from abroad

The picture, then, that has been drawn up by the few media in Norway to mention the case, viz that it is just a Christian group protesting, a group spread out in several countries and to which the Bodnarius belong, and that it is a question that concerns only this one family in Naustdal, is wrong.

The demonstrations against Norwegian CPS started in the Czech Republic in connection with the case of a Czech mother. It was raised by politicians both in their national parliament and in the EU parliament, and by the country's president.

Since then the concern has been spreading. The media in Czechia as well as in Romania have by and by gone fairly thoroughly into how child protection generally works in Norway. They have been shocked at discovering how easily and on what grounds Barnevernet takes parents away from children and children from parents.

Humanism seems more prevalent in Europe than in our own country. One of the leaders of the demonstration in Prague said to me: "It was a good thing that you were here and held an appeal, because even a lot of Czechs do not believe it can be true."

The world is in the process of discovering that Norway has a system which in a brutal way destroys families and individuals, which creates tragedies, and increases the suicide rate both of children and parents. The picture revealed to the world is not a pretty one. And the CPS workers in Naustdal are not alone in being responsible for it.