8 March 2020

The fight over the future of child protection in Norway is hardening

By Øivind Østberg,
barrister, Oslo

• • • •
This article was published in Norwegian on Document.no on 1 December 2019, as "Kampen om barnevernets framtid hardner til", and reprinted here.
The English version is published here with the author's kind consent.
Translation, including translation of quotes from Norwegian, by Marianne Haslev Skånland.
• • • •

The Norwegian child protection establishment has gathered its wits to launch counter-attacks after
the Strand Lobben case judgment of 10 September 2019. Psychologist Vigdis Bunkholdt writes in Aftenposten on 27 November 2019 that it worries her that the Norwegian child protection Barnevernet now seems to adapt to the ECtHR's definition of family life. In particular, the "re-introduction of the biological principle as a major frame of reference" provokes her to react.

It is not surprising to find that psychologist Bunkholdt holds such views. She has been a central professional figure in the field and was a member of the 'expert panel', the Raundalen Committee (cf
here and here), appointed in 2011 by the then Minister of Children and Equality Audun Lysbakken. In an official report, NOU 2012:5, they announced a principle of "development-enhancing attachment". The dominating idea behind this new-word is that biological parents are not in themselves of any particular value to children, unless an attachment has developed between them which is "development-enhancing" for the child. Empirical support for this view is not presented by the expert committee.

The report formed the background for some changes in legislation, but not large enough to cause much debate in the Norwegian parliament Stortinget or in society generally. Of more importance were the political signals emanating from the government and down into the ranks. Inga Marte Thorkildsen, at that time the Minister for the department, was able to announce proudly, at the national congress of the Socialist Left Party in March of 2013:

'Today, I am able to reveal that we introduce a new principle in Barnevernet. It is a principle which takes as its starting point the question of whether the child is well cared for and grows up in an environment supporting its development. The biological principle shall not prevent children from growing up in environments which safeguard the child. Mother's and father's right to be parents is not to prevail to the detriment of children's right to security.'
(The Norwegian is quoted after Skartveit, Normløst, 2019.)

But even earlier, the alleged prioritising of "parents' right at the expense of the child" was not so prominent in Norwegian child protection as to prevent Norwegian authorities from making decisions about Trude Lobben and her child which later, through the judgment in the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR, were shown to be violations of their right to a family life together. With the family-hostile ideology of the Raundalen Committee and Thorkildsen as a guide-line, these tendencies have intensified. The series of cases from Norway now to be considered by the ECtHR is witness to this. The signal from Europe's top judges – which there is reason to believe is in accord with the attitude of the great majority of ordinary people in Norway as well – is that this is not worthy of a civilised nation.

Vigdis Bunkholdt asks why it is that biology should be the most important factor in child protection cases. The answer is that it is not to be the most important factor if parents abuse or gravely neglect their child. But in other circumstances it should be the most important factor because it in fact
is, in the feelings of almost all children as well as those of the parents. The strong bonds of belonging together show themselves through a biologically developed feeling known by the name of love, which has won through in evolution because it is the factor that best promotes the survival of the individual. Children have the best chance of receiving protection and help from their own parents or their own extended kin group. This is, among other things, confirmed by research revealing a seriously larger risk of violence from step-parents than from biological parents. And it is confirmed – albeit largely ignored by Norway's child protection authorities and their suppliers of terms and ideology – by extensive research about the actual results for children taken into public care.



Erik Bryn Tvedt:
Who is taken care of in child protection cases?
MHS's home page, 5 February 2019

Olav Terje Bergo:
The stubborn blindness of the defenders of Barnevernet
MHS's home page, 2 March 2019

Suranya Aiyar:
Understanding and Responding to Child Confiscation by Social Service Agencies
MHS's home page, 20 September 2017 / 9 May 2012

 – :  
Foster care: It's time to think out of the box
MHS's home page, 10 May 2012

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
Is biological kinship irrelevant for the life of human beings?
MHS's home page, 11 March 2012

 – :  
The CPS Barnevernet is now to exercise 'professional love'
MHS's home page, 10 November 2018

Kate Hilpern:
Unfit to be a mother?
The Guardian, 15 January 2008

Siv Westerberg:
Child Prisons? In Sweden?
MHS's home page, 28 December 2018

Else Sommer:
On foster children
MHS's home page, 23 July 2013

Lennart Sjöberg:
Adele Johansen vs. Norway: A mother fighting for her child
nkmr, 30 November 2001