21 December 2014

Educating the young – better through cooperation with the child protection agency (CPS)?

By Marianne Haslev Skånland

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The Norwegian original of this article, Samarbeid med barnevernet? (Cooperation with the CPS), was published in the newspaper Ringerikes Blad, based in Hønefoss, north-west of Oslo, on the 18 September 2014. This English version contains some slight revisions.

NAV is the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, a government agency with local offices in counties and municipalities. NOVA is a public establishment researching (childhood) development, welfare and aging.

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On 14 September 2014 an article in Ringerikes Blad: Utdanning – nøkkelen til arbeid (Education – the key to work), written by Elisabeth Holen, who is the director of the NAV branch in Buskerud county, points out the importance of supporting young people to complete an education and train for a profession. She certainly has good arguments regarding the demands which economic life makes on us in our times. Among the other services which NAV is to work closely with, however, she mentions the child protection services (CPS).

To assume that bringing the CPS and agencies related to them into contact with the young would strengthen their determination and ability to complete their education, is to make an assumption which is not borne out by experience nor supported by surveys using reliable statistics. Rather, actions taken by the CPS are likely to be the precursor to unemployment, early disability pensioning, frequent and serious health problems, prison sentences, and early death. And "likely to" in this case means seriously elevated frequency.

I can now hear in my mind the usual assertions: that such tragedies are sure to have been caused by the families of the children
before the CPS entered the picture.

No, that is not the reality. It is, on the contrary, rather likely that the CPS
causes such bad results. Studies are undertaken the whole time, of different aspects of the lives and development of children in the charge of the CPS, in our country and abroad. Especially school results are studied a lot, probably because they are relatively easy to measure. Some such studies are well set up, using control groups, or with comparison groups of children living in the same kinds of environment as those from which CPS charges have been removed, but with their own parents. There are also studies of sibling groups where some siblings have been taken from their parents while others have continued to live at home.

What such studies show is so dismal regarding the results of CPS intervention that it ought to arouse people to set aside their naïve belief that the CPS is a helper. Regardless what the CPS does to support and help, the result of depriving children of their own families or subjecting them to other forced arrangements is alarming.

In a newspaper article like this it is impossible to go into a lot of detail. Good surveys can be found on the internet, in Norwegian too, e.g by Sverre Kvilhaug.

Let me just mention one study, which is actually Norwegian, illustrating that zealousness of the CPS type does not lead to acquiring knowledge and to success in working life, but more to results like those I mentioned above. The results in percentages are also especially clear in this study: Ellen Kjelsberg in 1999 published a series of articles about the investigation of the later history of about a thousand youths who had been through treatment by the 'child and youth psychiatry', including the use of foster homes.
Only 23% made it through the following 15-30 years without either going to prison, or being put on early disability pension, or dying - some through suicide, or a combination of two or all three of these results.

I should also like to mention a more informal investigation done without the use of comparison groups: In a law office in Oslo with a large practice in criminal law (more than a thousand cases a year) they went through their archives for some years around 1990. They found that out of the clients whom the lawyers in the practice had defended, 50% had been under CPS care for longer or shorter periods while growing up, and a further 30% had been subject to other CPS measures. One should not blindly trust Norwegian criminal investigation and criminal law to prosecute and jail only guilty persons. Those concerned here, however, had at least come as close to criminal activity as to be charged.

From people who are in touch with prison administration in their professions I have been told that the percentage of prisoners who are former children in CPS care is high – strikingly so – in the prisons they have had contact with. Similar observations are found abroad. A prison 'career' generally goes badly with a satisfactory working life, and CPS activities do not help. As I said: on the contrary, they probably hurt.

At present, NOVA is busy telling us that things are going better for CPS children now. In the light of evidence, however, there are probably better explanations to be found of this than what a central person in the CPS for years, psychologist Elisabeth Backe-Hansen,
suggests: "Den forbedringen man ser i senere årskull kan tyde på at barnevernet gjør noe riktig" (The improvement we see in later cohorts can indicate that the CPS is doing something right). More likely, we could suppose that the increase in forced removals of children from their parents (which is a fact, and supported by official policies) leads to the CPS taking action against more children and young who have themselves better resources and power to survive in spite of discouraging circumstances, and who therefore make it in life despite the actions of the CPS.