28 November 2019

Marianne Haslev Skånland:

Some professional child experts (5)
Vigdis Bunkholdt, psychology specialist

(The translations from Norwegian are mine.
Marianne Haslev Skånland)

In the debate about the Norwegian child protection service Barnevernet – a debate which has now become quite loud when first the report of the Council of Europe was published in 2018 and then after the subsequent judgments against Norway in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg – some of the leading lights in Barnevernet's sphere have quickly shifted their position somewhat – have equipped themselves with some new opinions, which they probably think will be more in accord with the new direction in which the wind seems to be blowing. Perhaps most of all they want to retain their positions as top experts on children no matter what opinions they express?

Others, though, stick to their previous opinions (opinions that have contributed centrally to the way Barnevernet is at present, with numerous tragic family destructions and deportations of the children).

One who again displays unchanged opinions is psychology specialist Vigdis Bunkholdt, who for many years has been a leading thinker in the child protection field. Her new article

Hvorfor skal biologi være viktigst i barnevernssaker?
(Why should biology be the most important in Barnevern cases?)
Aftenposten, 25 November 2019

shows clearly the lop-sided the ideology of Barnevernet. It is a good thing that such notions, having been dominant for several decades, are once again exposed, and now in the context of a stonger opposition which is emerging against Barnevernet's ideology. Vigdis Bunkholdt has held a fairly important position among those who have maintained and developed Barnevernet into what it is today.

She plays an important role among child experts who believe that
all kinds of 'family types' are equally good for children.

She was indeed a member of the Raundalen committee, which successfully launched as an official principle that children's own biological parents are of no particular value to them, excepting only if an 'attachment' had developed between child and parents which was 'development-enhancing' / 'development-supportive' for the child. Other well-known Barnevern people on the committee were Willy-Tore Mørch and Øyvind Kvello and of course Magne Raundalen himself.

NOU 2012: 5  Bedre beskyttelse av barns utvikling
Ekspertutvalgets utredning om det biologiske prinsipp i barnevernet
(Better protection of children's development
The expert committee's report concerning the biological principle in Barnevernet [child protection]) 

The government, 6 February 2012

The committee in its recommendations safeguards itself by saying that the setting aside of biological bonds is only to decide in 'difficult' child protection cases. But that is not what has happened in practice, and the committee members and other leading authorities in child politics no doubt knew it wouldn't – Bunkholdt among them. She has, as far as I know, not at any time later come up with any criticism of the current practice or of the idea that these child professionals possess expertise in assessing children and parents and their 'attachment'.

No-one reading the Raundalen committee's recommendations needs to be surprised at the impossibility of debating with the members of the committee. Nor is it surprising that the development since 2012 has been characterised by an even more intense hardening of the attitude of Barnevernet, the county welfare boards (making the initial decisions of taking children into care), and the courts to the despair of parents and children in the hands of Barnevernet.

Some items of recommendation from the committee are added below this article.


I have in my possession some of Vigdis Bunkholdt's books. In
Barnevernpsykologi (Child protection psychology) from 1990 she includes an account of the Swedish longitudinal study done by Bohman and Sigvardsson. She says (pp 105-6):
"I denne undersøkelsen ble tre grupper barn fulgt opp til 22-23-årsalderen. En gruppe barn ble adoptert i første leveår, en gruppe ble plassert i fosterhjem i løpet av første leveår, av dem ble 70% adoptert senere, mens den tredje gruppen hele tiden bodde hos sine mødre eller ble tidlig tilbakeført. Av de tre gruppene var det barna som ble adoptert som klarte seg best. Selv om de hadde visse nervøse problemer i barnealderen, var disse forsvunnet ved oppfølging da barna var 15 år. I den tidlige oppfølgingen hadde begge de to andre gruppene store problemer, men ved senere oppfølging var avstanden mellom fosterbarna og barna som vokste opp hos sine mødre stor – i gunstig retning for fosterbarna."
(In this study, three groups of children were followed up until they were 22-23 years old. One group were adopted in their first year of life, one group were placed in foster homes during their first year of life, 70% of them were adopted later; while a third group lived all the time with their mothers or were returned early. Of the three groups, the adopteds did best. Even though they had certain nervous problems in childhood, these had disappeared at the follow-up at 15. In the early follow-up, both the other two groups had great problems, but at later follow-up the distance between the foster children and the children growing up with their mothers was large – in a favourable direction for the foster children).

This is completely untrue about the Bohman/Sigvardsson study. Either Bunkholdt has not managed to understand the articles about it, or she avoids the truth on purpose. The reality was: At 22-23 years, 30% of the foster boys had been registered for crime and abuse of alcohol. Of the "home boys" (those having grown up with their mothers, often under difficult circumstances), 16% had been registered for the same, and this was the same as for the control group which represented the population norm. Of the adopteds, a slightly higher number than of the "home boys" and the population norm had been registered for crime and abuse of alcohol but this difference was not large enough to be significant.

The Bohman/Sigvardsson study is well-known and is not hard to understand. It is therefore rather amazing that Bunkholdt permits herself to turn the results on their head the way she does – is it in order to fit them in with her opinions? Attorney Sverre Kvilhaug has referred to the study several times, for example here:

Hensynet til barnets beste i barnevernssaker i lys av forskningsbasert kunnskap
(Considering the child's best interest in child protection cases in the light of research-based knowledge)
(Kritisk Juss 2007 (33), pp 111-132)
BarnasRett, no date

Barnevernet i Norge – Befringutvalget
Internasjonal barnevernforskning av betydning for spørsmålet om omsorgsovertakelse er til barnets beste

(Barnevernet in Norway – the Befring committee
International research on child protection of importance for the question of whether taking into care is in the child's best interest)

Letter to the Befring committee, 7 June 2000)
MHS's home page, no date


There is no need to psychologise eternally about why people hold the opinions they do; there is no mechanical connection between a person's experiences, his life form, and the conclusions he draws from them. However, it may be of relevance for Vigdis Bunkholdt's views that she is a self-declared lesbian:

Høgskolens lesbiske pionerer
(The lesbian pioneers of the college)
Khrono, 27 June 2015

In the article we find:
"— Jeg mener man må tillegge hvordan ungene har det, større vekt enn hvem de bor sammen med, sier Vigdis."
(I think greater emphasis should be given to how the children's situation is than to whom they live with, says Vigdis.)

I am
not among the people who believe that homosexuality is unnatural or harmful or should not be respected or will inevitably lead to particular opinions on parents and children. But Bunkholdt's own private experiences of cohabitation, emphasised publically by herself, may perhaps have contributed to her not understanding that there is any particular value in the togetherness between children and their biological parents?


As to Bunkholdt's question: Why should biology be the most important factor?

It should not be if the parents abuse their child. In other cases it should be because it
is, in the large majority of children's emotional experiences as well as in those of the parents. The strong bonds show themselves through biologically developed emotions known by the name love. Children and parents show, in a multitude of ways, that they long to be together and to belong together. The drive to be together has rather obviously won through in the evolution of the generations precisely because it has led to positive survival to a greater degree than other possible arrangements. It is with their own parents or with their own extended family that children have the best chance of finding protection and help.

Most of us are against forced marriage. Many are also opposed to arranged marriages, because it tends, in a number of cases, to be indistinguishable from forced marriage. But Vigdis Bunkholdt has no reservations against forced families and arranged families for children.


Confer also

Vigdis Bunkholdt, Jona Hafdis Einarsson, Jan Storø:
Hvorfor svarer ikke norske politikere på BBCs spørsmål om barnevernet?
(Why do not the politicians answer the BBC's questions about Barnevernet?)
Aftenposten, 16 August 2016

– Behov for lovendring om Barnevernet
Intervju med advokat Sverre Kvilhaug 2 september 2016

(– Need for legislative change regarding Barnevernet
Interview with attorney Sverre Kvilhaug 2 September 2016)
MHS's home page, 8 October 2016

Sverre Kvilhaug:
Barnevern eller hensynet til barnets beste?
(Child protection or the child's best interest?)
(A section "Kept quiet about in Norwegian child welfare research" points out
that Bunkholdt in part holds the Bohman/Sigvardsson's research about
foster children to conclude diametrically opposite to what it actually does, in
part draws unwarranted conclusions from what their investigations show.)
MHS's home page, 7 February 2024

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

 – :
How Norwegian experts came to reject biological kinship as relevant in child welfare policy
MHS's home page, 13 October 2017


Concerning the Raundalen committee's proposal:

Letter to the government
Til Barne-, likestillings- og inkluderingsdepartementet
(To the Ministry of Children, Equality and Inclusion)
The proposals of the committee are found in the following pages (can be clicked into at the bottom of the page)

News and press releases:
Foreslår nytt prinsipp i barnevernet
(Proposes a new principle in Barnevernet)
The government, 6 February 2012

Magne Raundalen's presentation:

"Målet med en utredning om det biologiske prinsipp er at spørsmål knyttet til anvendelsen av prinsippet i barnevernet blir grundig utredet. Utredningsarbeidet skal først og fremst belyse vanskelige problem-stillinger i barnevernets arbeid."
(The purpose of carrying out an assessment of the biological principle is that questions concerning the implementation of the principle in Barnevernet should be thoroughly reviewed. The assessment work should primarily throw light on difficult problems in the work of Barnevernet.)

"Det er usikkert om det biologiske prinsipp vil ha samme vekt etter at tilbakeføringsbestemmelsen i § 4-21 ble endret i 2009."
(It is unclear whether the biological principle will have the same weight after the 2009 revision of § 4-21 about conditions for return of the child.)

"Utvalget er kjent med at det finnes forskning som tyder på biologisk preferanse i foreldreskapet, men tolker forskningen om den tilknytningen som oppstår mellom barn og deres omsorgspersoner som det sterkeste grunnlaget for et utviklingsstøttende foreldreskap. Utvalget har ikke funnet forskningsbaserte holdepunkter som hverken bekrefter eller avkrefter at det har en avgjørende egenverdi for barn å vokse opp med sine biologiske foreldre."
(The committee knows that research exists pointing to a biological preference in parenthood, but interprets the research about the attachment developing between children and their care-persons as the strongest basis for development-supportive parenthood. The committee has not found research-based facts which either support or disprove that growing up with their own biological parents should be of value for children in itself.)

"Utvalget anbefaler at det etableres et fjerde, førende prinsipp for vurdering av vanskelige avgjørelser i barnevernssaker. Bakgrunnen er at en for stor vekting av egenverdien av det biologiske prinsipp kan føre til at barnet vokser opp under ugunstige omsorgsbetingelser dersom tilknytningen og relasjonsutviklingen mellom barnet og omsorgspersonene er svak."
(The committee recommends that a fourth, leading principle be established for deciding difficult Barnevern cases. The background is that too heavy emphasis given to the intrinsic value of the biological principle can lead to the child growing up under unfavourable conditions of care if the attachment and the relational development between the child and the persons giving it care are weak.)

"Det utviklingsstøttende tilknytningsprinsippet som utvalget anbefaler som et nytt førende prinsipp i barnevernet, er forskningsmessig begrunnet i utredningens hovedtekst og ytterligere belyst i to vedlegg.
Utvalget anbefaler at det utviklingsstøttende tilknytningsprinsippet gis forrang i forhold til det biologiske prinsipp i saker der tilknytnings- og relasjonskvaliteten er til hinder for barnets utvikling."
(The development-supportive attachment principle recommended by the committee as a new, leading principle in Barnevernet is supported researchwise in the main text of the report and elucidated further in two attachments.
The committee recommends that the development-supportive attachment principle take precedence over the biological principle in cases in which the attachment quality and the relational quality are a hindrance to the child's development.)

"Det er mulig at barneverntjenesten og andre profesjoner tillegger det biologiske prinsipp større vekt enn det er grunnlag for etter rettspraksis. Den høye medholdsprosenten for barnevernet i Fylkesnemndssaker kan være en indikasjon på at barneverntjenesten legger terskelen høyt for å fremme saker om omsorgsovertakelse – muligens for høyt."
(It is possible that the child protective services and other professions place greater importance on the biological principle than is motivated by legal practice. The high proportion of cases won by Barnevernet in the county social welfare boards may indicate that Barnevernet practices a high threshold for submitting cases for taking children into care – perhaps too high.)

"Utvalget vil anbefale at:
   det for spedbarn fra 0 til 18 måneder tas stilling til adopsjon ikke senere enn ett år etter plassering etter bvl § 4-15, tredje ledd.
   det for barn mellom 18 måneder til 4 år tas stilling til adopsjon senest 2 år etter fosterhjemsplassering bvl § 4-15, tredje ledd.
   Adopsjon alltid vurderes i tilfeller der barn er tidlig og varig plassert i fosterhjem."
(The committee will recommend that:
   for infants of 0 to 18 months, adoption is considered not later than one year after placement according to the Barnevern Act § 4-15, third paragraph.
   for children between 18 months and 4 years of age, adoption is considered not later than 2 years after foster home placement according to the Barnevern Act § 4-15, third paragraph.
   adoption is always considered in cases of children being early and permanently placed in foster homes.)

"Utvalget anbefaler departementet å utarbeide en fosterhjemsgaranti for å motvirke ustilsiktede brudd i fosterforhold."
(The committee recommends that the Ministry formulate a foster home guarantee in order to counteract unplanned break-ups in foster relationships.)

" Gjentatte begjæringer og søksmål kan føre til negativ og dermed skadelig uro for barnet. Utvalget foreslår ikke absolutte grenser for tilbakeføring da disse kan komme i konflikt med konvensjoner Norge er bundet av. I stedet foreslår utvalget at krav om tilbakeføring og samværsendringer kan nektes realitetsbehandlet dersom det noen tid etter plassering ikke fremkommer bevis som tilsier at situasjonen er endret for barnet."
(Repeated demands and civil action can lead to negative and therefore harmful disquiet for the child. The committee does not recommend absolute limits for return, since that may conflict with conventions which Norway is bound by. Instead, the committee suggests that process can be denied regarding demands for return and changes of visitation if there is not, some time after placement, proof indicating that the situation for the child has changed.)


Some professional child experts
27 August 2018 –