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1 October 2017





Morten Ørsal Johansen: 
Norwegian child protection Barnevernet (CWS), a state within the state?


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Morten Ørsal Johansen has been a member of the Norwegian parliament Stortinget for 8 years, representing Oppland County, and was re-elected on 11 September 2017 for a third term.

This article was first published in Norwegian with the title
Barnevernet, en stat i staten?, on 6 September 2017, in the newspaper GD (Gudbrandsdølen Dagningen), a regional newspaper based in Lillehammer in the county of Oppland.
    The article is published here with the kind permission of the author. It has also been published
in the Sunday Guardian, based in India, under the title Norway's child-confiscation policies are disastrous, unjust on 30 September 2017.
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Barnevernet, the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS), do not remove children from their parents for no reason, or do they? I have to admit that I myself have been among those who thought that there must be a very good reason behind their taking children into care. The first thing you think of is that probably, the parents have subjected their children to violence, or to neglect, there are drug or alcohol problems in the family or they have in some other way exposed the children to serious neglect. In the course of my political life I have obtained thorough insight into Barnevernet and close contact with many of the families who are affected by the agency. I will go as far as to say they have been struck by disaster.

Here in Oppland county I have got to know cases, have seen documents, and have heard recordings, which have made me wonder what kind of establishment the CWS are, what kind of people work there, what kind of municipalities let the CWS charge ahead in the way they want to do.

I was a witness in a case before the County Committee, the tribunal that oversees CWS cases. That was when it really became clear to me how erroneous this system is. Thirteen witnesses were heard, from the CWS, from the service for Child and Youth Psychiatry, the school, the health nurse, a mandated expert, and the family. Lillehammer CWS were alone in going for taking into care, the other twelve witnesses were against. The decision of the County Committee was that the child was to be taken into care!

In the municipality of Gran, the children of a family were taken, without warning, from the school and the kindergarten, while the parents were fetched from their jobs by the police. The cause was that an adult had reported a worry to the CWS,
four months earlier (!), when she had heard one of the children say that their daddy gets just as angry as the father in the story and film "Emil i Lønneberget".

The most suspect and frustrating of all in child protection cases I hold to be the absence of any requirement of proof, of stated and reasoned cause, or of concrete answers. Allegations are made without any form of documentation, just expressions like "we think" and "our assessment". The County Committees accept vague, undefined claims and arguments and do not demand anything in the way of quality control and concrete justification for the CWS's conclusions. I have lost count of how many times I have read, and heard, that the answer of the CWS to questions is that there has been a "professional assessment based on child expertise", an undefinable phrase which even the Ministry of Children and Equality says does not give a concrete explanation of anything at all. Or the proposed measures are said to "have been assessed to be in the best interest of the child". It is never revealed what these "assessments" consist of, what the background for the "assessments" is, and which concrete points constitute the basis of the assessments.

I know an extremely high number of examples of how representatives of the CWS act. They have in my view become a state within the state, they do not act according to existing laws and rules. It seems to me that they have one goal only: as many children as possible taken into care. This is not how the CWS should work.

It has also come to my knowledge that a municipal head administrator, with the mayor present, has said that the municipality does not have the resources for long term assistance and that taking children into care is therefore cheaper, since a lot of the expense is then covered by the state. It makes me somewhat upset.
In the autumn of last year, the CWS of Østre Toten municipality had four employees guarding the entrance to a house for seven hours, with the help of two police patrols. The reason was that the people living there knew a mother whose son had escaped from a foster home. No wonder Barnevernet in our Norwegian municipalities cost the tax payers billions every year when we see what resources they have access to. I also question the uncritical cooperation of the police in that kind of task, and their use of resources when they are able to man the driveway of a house for hours, on the day after a killing had taken place in the same municipality.
The CWS in Land municipality have been discussed in the media, with their 89% violations of the law. The County Governor's report revealed transgressions, serious errors and deficiencies. In my experience, matters have not improved in Land. I know of a child protection case which was before the County Committee for Social Affairs this summer. The proceedings were broken off by the Committee leader because Land CWS did not have sufficiently much of a case. But the CWS refuse to drop the case and were granted a deferment, so now they are working to strengthen their arguments for having the children taken into care.

Furthermore, I have listened to a recording from a meeting at Valdres CWS, in which a social worker says straight out that they do not try to return children to the parents. Being asked to stick to the paragraph of the law requiring them to work for return, the social worker says that "we know the law, but it is not complied with by us". The same case worker has also stated that "the child protection law is only a guide".

The Child Welfare Services need a proper clean up. Since I have just been shown trust by the voters re-electing me to Stortinget (Parliament), I will spend a lot of time on this in the coming period.

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