24 November 2016

The Norwegian child protection agency Barnevernet's use of duress and force against children

By Marianne Haslev Skånland

• • •
A slightly shorter version of this article in Norwegian has been published under the title Barnevernets bruk av tvang og makt mot barn.
The translation, including translation of quoted statements, is mine.
MH Skånland
• • •

In 1951, psychologist Mrs Gori Gunvald was employed at
Bjerketun behandlingshjem og skole (Bjerketun treatment home and school), an institution for "unruly" young girls. She made strong objections against the abuse and neglect which the residents were exposed to. The girls could, for example, be punished for disobedience by having to stay in bed for a month. (The whole set-up was under the supervisory authority of the national director of health, Karl Evang. Everybody who has been confined to bed because of illness knows that the very fact of lying in bed, not being able to get up and take exercise, is detrimental to health.) Gunvald got the boot. However, she managed to mobilise the press and the case also drew attention in Stortinget (the Norwegian parliament). The institution had different answers when inconvenient questions were put to them: 1) The accusations were not true; 2) They were true, but the punishments were part of raising and teaching the girls; 3) The punishments were part of (psychiatric) treatment.

In 1996, two child protection workers at a private child protection institution in Vestfold county were convicted in the County Court for their methods of bringing up children (report on 11 April 1996 on the news of NRK, the national broadcasting company). The judgment especially emphasised their treatment of a 14-year-old boy, whom they had taken out in a copse without clothes, made to stand upright in a sleeping-bag for a long time, and forced to stand with his feet down in a puddle of icy water.

The two had to pay fines of NOK 5,000 (approx. US$600 - 900), but they were
not deprived of their right to work in child protection, neither in the public nor in the private part of the system.

In 2001, some programs on TV2 showed children who against their will and against their strong protest were taken by physical force by Barnevernet with the help of the police (cf MH Skånland: En debatt om politi og presse som sporet av (A debate about police and press which derailed) 29 March 2002 / 22 October 2006.) Mrs Karita Bekkemellem Orheim, the Minister for Child and Family Affairs of the Labour Government at that time, appeared on tv very shocked and angry, saying that no matter what, children in Norway were not to be treated like that.

One of the children was an 11-year-old boy, who strongly tried to resist being forced from his father's home in Norway to his mother in Denmark. He was brought to a psychiatric ward. The father was convicted of kidnapping and went to prison. But the boy came to his father for summer holidays the next year too, and now he had reached 12 years and had some legal rights, so this time the mother and the authorities had in the end to yield when he refused to be forced to go to Denmark once more. In 2006, his father instituted legal proceedings against the state and obtained satisfaction and a symbolic compensation for having been accused and sentenced. The son, now 16, gave evidence in court, confronting and blaming the public prosecutor very strongly for the way the prosecutor had conducted the case. In a news program on TV2 the son now asked what had happened to all the promises of the politicians "after the worst experiences of his life back in 2001". The Minister of Justice Knut Storberget (Labour Party) said in an interview: "I wish for a future in which we to a lesser degree make use of the police for that kind of assignments. I think it is natural for us to put some [proposals to Parliament], so that we tell the politicians, and the police too, by the way, how such difficult questions, among other things, are to be handled."

The fresh case about "The Glass Girl" is by now quite well known, through a series of articles in Stavanger Aftenblad (Saken Glassjenta is a thread of comments and links to articles in Norwegian).

"Ida", as she is called, has been repeatedly exposed to physical, brutal force, coercion, monitoring, restraint, and – in spite of originally having been persuaded to let herself be placed in Barnevernet
voluntarily – has been brought back by force when she fled. All of it behaviour, by public employees, of a type and to a degree that would likely have interested an international torture commission with its eyes on ordinary prisons, if it had happened there. Ida has now been sentenced to imprisonment for crimes she has committed while in the institutions.

Everybody is "so upset", local and central authorities right up to Minister of Children and Equality Solveig Horne hold meetings and "confess" to "not having done enough" for The Glass Girl. Politicians and bureaucrats talk importantly about how "we must learn" from this case, it is presented as an exception due to lack of resources (but they have apparently paid out something in the neighbourghood of NOK 28,000 (≈US$ 3000) per
day to keep her prisoner in institutions); the health authorities and the county governors are to intensify their supervision of institutions, in new ways, and the authorities want to make Barnevernet "even better" than today. Ida is apparently serving her prison sentence in some setting of "Forandringsfabrikken / Barneverns-proffene" (The change factory / The Barnevern professionals), a group of youths who, directed by the authorities, make propaganda for Barnevernet and for Barnevernet "leaning more". – The falsehood of all the propaganda ought to make all Norway take to its senses and blush. It stinks. It is certainly not a case of not having done enough, it is, on the contrary, one of having done far too much, all of it harmful.


No cases of these types between the dates mentioned above? Oh yes certainly, a steady stream rather, many of them easy to document quite openly. Allowed to take place not only under the social-state-idealists from the Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party, but also under the ministers Valgerd Svarstad Haugland and Laila Dåvøy, both of Kristelig Folkeparti (The Christian Democratic Party), which proclaims "the family" to be one of its very central concerns. What has been going on through the decades has been supported by all of them. Our politicians and bureaucrats have seen to it that there is a handy rule for themselves (possibly unlawful) saying that they "cannot go into individual cases". In this way they avoid responsibility and realism, and avoid keeping the individual cases in mind until the next time there is an "individual case". Just the way an article title in Stavanger Aftenblad hit the nail on the head. It can be paraphrased this way: It is not a failed case in the system. It is a system of betrayal.

How about pulling oneself together enough to face the totality? Our authorities permit themselves to act ignorant of history. This too they do repeatedly. They are "so shocked" at a few individual cases, but they babble on as before about "having to do more for the most vulnerable" and then the cases are hushed up. No admission or acknowledgement; eyes closely shut and sticking with one's buddies are tactics making sure of good protection for them. But here is a bit of reality which bears on exactly this matter:

Over the last 25-30 years, compensation schemes have been launched by the state, the municipalities and the counties, for people who have experienced neglect, force and abuse in Barnevernet's care. At first, compensation only covered care in children's homes / orphanages, and was limited to what had happened back in the 1950s and 1960s, at least 25 years before application for redress. At the same time, there was endless repetition of a refrain claiming that such things only happened long ago; now (in the 1990s) conditions were said to be altogether different. Then, new announcements kept coming, saying people could apply for compensation, they were broadened to include unwarranted treatment of children in foster homes, and the time limit has crept towards only about 10 years before the present. At the same time, nobody initiating a showdown about such abusive treatment, new cases of the same kind are created all the time, cases which will no doubt lead to compensation claims from the new generations in not too many years. The idea that Barnevernet is such a safe haven for children lives on. The naïve among us believe either that only in the olden days was Barnevernet bad, or that only the very last years are experiencing an unusual deviation from a system working well. In reality, Barnevernet's actions are about the same as before, they have just come to affect more children and families than before because of increased financing.


The Ministry of Children and Equality talks big practically every day, in the newspapers and in official statements, about child welfare and protecting children from abuse. They are active abroad, teaching their opposite numbers in other countries how to protect children from violence from their parents. Norway claims to be world leader in children's rights and scientific knowledge about children. (The Ministry's website, English version)

The present Minister Solveig Horne claims that the "investigation" of The Glass Girl case will change all of the Barnevern services. Really? – Why have no previous cases changed it?

Here, then, is a case only some days old: A 5-year-old boy was taken by the police and Barnevernet for questioning on Sunday 6 November of this year. Together with his family, he was kept waiting for two hours at the police station. Then he was questioned for an hour and a half, up to 11 pm, by two big and strong policemen he did not know. First, his grandmother was allowed to come with him when he was being questioned. Then the interrogators disliked a critical question from her and sent her out. Now afterwards, the boy is traumatised, according to the family and their lawyer, who was there. – Oh yes, everyone not blinded by all the official propaganda in favour of Barnevernet will quite likely understand that a boy 5 years old can be traumatised in the circumstances.
5-åring skal ha blitt avhørt til klokka 23 (5-year-old apparently questioned until 11 pm),
nrk Oppland, 15 November 2016;
Avhørte femåring til klokka 23 (Questioned 5-year-old until 11 pm),
GD, 15 november 2016).


There is only one way to stop such brutality. It is to stop it. Stop. Cease. Not to carry it out. Stop those under one's management from carrying it out.

Not to cry crocodile tears. Not arrange meetings. Stop.


The article has been reprinted here, apparently in a comment in a long discussion about Eva Michaláková's case.
Rodina.cz, 3.12.2016)