20 April 2023
Were cultural differences the cause of the India/Stavanger child protection case, in the same way as the Bollywood film relates the story?
By Marianne Haslev Skånland
professor emeritus

• • • •
A Norwegian version of this article, only very slightly shorter, was published in Utrop, on 18 April 2023, with the title "Skyldtes barnevernssaken India/Stavanger kulturforskjeller, slik det fremstilles i Bollywood-filmen?"
• • • •

I know the case about Sagarika Chakraborty, her husband and their two children fairly well. Bjørn Bjøro gives a good and correct description in Utrop on 10 April 2023 (English here). There is more to say about the seriously incorrect allegations made use of by Barnevernet, the Norwegian child protection service (CPS) in Stavanger in Norway, against this Indian family, allegations which are still being voiced even ten years later, now that the film has come which is based on elements from this case. I shall not go into such allegations and interpretations right now, however, but rather take up the question of cultural differences.
Yes, arguments about eating, sleeping, details about child raising and care, were made use of by Barnevernet. So when Barnevernet now, in 2023, still denies that this had anything to do with the children being taken into care, a pertinent question is this: Why, then, did Barnevernet, the CPS, raise concern about such matters at all, in the context of something as serious as depriving two children of their parents?
Other equally incredible arguments are nevertheless utilised by Barnevernet against ethnically Norwegian families, in order to get hold of their children. Immigrants and those of foreign cultures are, in what we can call Western countries, over-represented among families whose children are taken away from their families by the CPS. But the methods used by the CPS are the same vis-à-vis their 'own' population, in Norway ethnically Norwegian families, and these are the majority. So, the fact that details from daily life, customs and habits are used against families is not in itself a matter of discrimination, but people of foreign culture are more easily attacked by means of such arguments, if the CPS has decided to demolish the family.

A psychology that has waved goodbye to reality
But there is a cultural difference which is more deeply lodged than habits and accidental episodes, a factor less visible, and one which is a major reason why the tragedies caused to so many families by the CPS are allowed to go on and on:
The attitude to family solidarity which is a matter of course in many countries and societies, is not 'politically correct' in child protection and other types of social work in Western countries. Not only is the family here seen as less central to children, but biological parents are even considered to be unimportant in their children's lives. Children must have 'care', but who gives it to them is seen as immaterial (e.g psychology specialist Vigdis Bunkholdt thinks so (next-to-last section here); she was also a member of the Raundalen Committee, cf below, about NOU 2012:5). For that reason it is also held to be unproblematic to move children – on the condition that decisions about moving are in the hands of the CPS.
In Norway, when reading articles, reports, debates about child protection, one is presented with a plethora of advantages children are in need of, but the parents are not mentioned as an important resource, perhaps the most important of all. Particularly not by the children's ombudsman or other professional experts on children. It is striking that child experts rarely express, and apparently rarely even know, how important it is for a child's experience of feeling safe, protected and happy, to know that it is among its own people. We generally feel, quite instinctively: Our own parents, own grandparents, they are the ones we know we can trust, they are the only ones who will go the extra mile to help us and guard us when things get tough. This feeling of close togetherness is actually known by the name 'love'.
In Norwegian documents in connection with legislation it may be expressed that 'growing up with one's own parents has a value in itself'. This is called 'the biological principle'. But I have spoken with some of our parliamentary representatives about it, and none have expressed anything other than emotions, opinions and possibly some vague ideas of what it means. In reality, there is very good evidence for growing up with one's close biological relatives being of special value and why this is so. But our parliamentarians, and others who 'decide' matters, do not know that it exists or where to search for it.
The dangerous thing about 'opinions' is that without knowledge behind it, one is helpless in one's opinions when attacked. Many let themselves be bullied into shame when the attackers of the biological principle ask whether its defenders also want children to be in the power of parents when the parents are dangerous child abusers? No, of course nobody wants that! The argument is faulty, it is a 'straw man': those who attack the biological principle ascribe an opinion to the defenders which the defenders do not have; then the attackers condemn the defenders for this 'opinion', and continue on their own path of reasoning against families.

They really believe in this
The idea that close biological bonds are without importance for children's life and development has come in waves several times in Europe and America. In the psychology employed in child protection circles in Norway over the last hundred years, the biological principle has been disliked for a long time. Instead, the talk has been of 'attachment', which, it is supposed, can be constructed between children and anybody they are placed with. 'Attachment disorder' was also used against Sagarika Chakraborty (cf the section "Some allegations and particulars in the Bhattacharya case" here). The son's behaviour was held by Barnevernet to be due to an 'attachment disorder' between mother and son, and the mother was blamed for it.
'Attachment' type of reasoning is expressed in official reports and studies, most clearly of all in the 'development-supportive attachment principle', proposed by a psychologist-led committee as a foundation in the legislation instead of emphasis on biological bonds as valuable:  
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 elucidation of the biological principle in Barnevernet; (Letter) To the Ministry of Children, Equality and Inclusion)
The Government, 6 February 2012.
This expert committee's report is somewhat dreary reading, but I have extracted som essential parts from the account given by the committee leader Magne Raundalen at the public launch of the report. An example is this statement:
"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 has not found research-based facts which either support or disprove the supposition that growing up with their own biological parents is in itself of value to children.)
An obvious rejoinder is to say that with such a statement, the committee has declared itself to be incompetent in matters of scientific research. And indeed the concept of 'attachment', in its interpretation in prestigious child expert circles, has found very weak research support. I have discussed the place of the ideology in a somewhat wider landscape here: How Norwegian experts came to reject biological kinship as relevant in child welfare policy.
The present child protection ideology has gained official precedence in public and political handling of questions relating to children. Leading circles, including in the judicial area as well as in politics, are unquestioning in their belief that this is modern science. Probably the present type of child 'protection' will continue until the whole system is totally reformed. When, though?
It is actually strange: We deplore forced marriages. But we believe in forced families for children? Recommended by 'experts' who, in an 'observation' over an hour or two, 'see' that the children are 'not attached to' their parents?

See also

'Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway'
Official Trailer
Zee Studios & Emmay Entertainment, 23 February 2023

Arne Jarl Hatlem:

Barnevernet – the CPS – equals merciless Norwegians
MHS's home page, 29 July 2018
Siv Westerberg:
Norway and Sweden – where inhuman rights prevail
Scandinavian countries where governments, authorities and courts do not respect the human rights of children and parents to a family life together
MHS's home page, 11 November 2017
 – :  Foster-children as lucrative business
MHS's home page, 25 January 2014
Vlad Gladkikh:
My email to the Norwegian Government
MHS's home page, 1 April 2012
Øivind Østberg:
The fight over the future of child protection in Norway is hardening
MHS's home page, 8 March 2020
Else Sommer:
On foster children
MHS's home page, 23 July 2013
 – :  Assistance to families
MHS's home page, 13 August 2013
Kristine Bolstad:
The CPS took everything I had – and smashed it
MHS's home page, 26 July 2021
Olav Terje Bergo:
The stubborn blindness of the defenders of Barnevernet
MHS's home page, 2 March 2019
familien-er-samlet (the-family-is-together):
Flight, exile and taking chances
MHS's home page, 11 November 2020
 – :  5 years as refugees
MHS's home page, 30 August 2018
Jan Simonsen:
"Children of the state" – Czech documentary with critical spotlight on Norwegian child protection
MHS's home page, 4 December 2017
Marianne Haslev Skånland:
The curious case of 'child protection' in Norway
MHS's home page, 20 April 2012
BarnasRett, samlemappe 2001 – 2009
Alvheim's ten commandments to people in touch with Barnevernet / Alvheims ti bud – til dem som kommer i barnevernets søkelys
MHS's home page, 11 October 2022