This Notice of Concern has been signed by 268 professionals in Norway, mainly lawyers and psychologists, who all have extensive experience with «Barnevernet». (Inquiries and articles illuminating the current situation can be requested from Einar C. Salvesen´s office, as well as a list of the signatories.)
This Notice, delivered to the Minister of the Department for Children, Equality and Inclusion on June 15th, 2015, was initially signed by 130 professionals, at present 268 signatures. The professionals are mainly Psychologists and Lawyers, but also General Practitioners and other Health Workers incl. Child Protection Officers, Expert Witnesses and University Professors. A number of professionals have agreed to its content, but do not wish to state their support due to career reasons. The Notice was immediately published in Aftenposten, the main Norwegian newspaper, and officially supported by the minister herself.
Extract of letter to the Minister: As per the enclosure we take this opportunity to send a notification of concern about the situation which prevails within Norwegian Child Protection Services. The document is signed by professionals who, based upon their own experiences, have formed the view that the system as it is today does not achieve its objectives and aims, and therefore does not protect children as it ought to do…
The current situation within Norwegian Child Welfare Services and System gives grounds for profound concerns. As professionals and responsible citizens we consider ourselves accountable for expressing clearly the following warning: Under the current laws and practice in Norway an unknown number of children and families are suffering due to incompetence and abuse by authorities.
As a society we should no longer accept the prevailing situation. Our opinion is that it requires mobilisation of a stronger commitment among all who deal with the challenges facing Norwegian Child Welfare Services/System (our abbreviation NCWS). This applies to child welfare professionals, politicians, media, and the general societal debate. We all have to ensure that children and their families are not exposed to violations of their human rights caused by incompetence or decision making processes within welfare and care organisations. This is especially so, given that these same organisations are meant to create welfare and care of actual needs.
A growing number of professionals in interaction with NCWS are increasingly understanding that the system, in many situations, falls short of promoting the interest of children, and that there is a need for comprehensive changes. Experience suggests that initiatives so far being launched or planned are insufficient or inadequate. Ministers and departmental heads have promoted changes, but obviously this is not enough.
We would prefer to have confidence in the professional expertise and discretionary decisions of the NCWS, and that these would help ensure well founded actions and decisions. Similarly, we would like to believe that the legal rights of children and families are being maintained by the courts and Expert Witnesses. Professionals, who have examined individual cases, all too often discover a completely different reality.
We know that there are many cases, where statutory services have had to intervene in family conflicts and take over the care of children. Many NCWS offices address this extremely demanding task in the best way possible. At the same time we regularly observe examples where NCWS appears to be a dysfunctional organisation performing erroneously with subsequent serious consequences.
We observe cases where NCWS is failing to recognize obvious child abuse and serious lack of care within families. Thus they do not act timely with adequate interventions, which might have saved children from an unacceptable life situation. In such circumstances, developing and agreeing on better methods of assessment will help children, suffering due to lack of care, so they may get adequate help quickly.
On the other hand there are cases where the NCWS remove children from their homes based upon very weak evidence, characterised by speculative interpretation, discrepancy and disagreement between assessments and conclusions, and missing quality of adequate measures that might otherwise have brought about change.
A serious matter is the lack of legal rights for families resulting from the close link between many expert psychologists and the NCWS. NCWS is in many cases the psychologist’s principal employer, and tend to engage the same expert psychologist in different cases . This may easily lead to creating a close relation between the psychologists appointed and the particular municipal office of the NCWS. For the experts these are well paid assignments, and many professionals have these child protection cases as their only source of income. Thus the assigned expert witnesses may easily prefer to state expert opinions that support decisions already taken by the NCWS. Thus we encounter a situation of serious impartiality and conflict of interest, which may constitute impaired legal protection of the vulnerable families involved in NCWS decisions.
When expert witnesses submit their reports and give evidence in the Courts, we frequently observe that the observational basis upon which they report is in many cases limited and not well founded. The expert witness meets the family maybe a few times and to a great extent they base their assessments on the documentation already submitted by the NCWS, lacking a critical and scientific approach to the material they have at hand. Hence, their assessments and conclusions tend to be superficial and speculative and without in-depth analysis of the complexity of the case. Nevertheless, statements by expert appointed by the NCWS are given excessive emphasis when presented in court. Judges are frequently entrusting the decision to be made by the expert witness when appointed by NCWS or the court.
In some cases the biological parents have sufficient financial resources to appoint their own expert witness to study their case. If the new expert witness, appointed by the parents, comes to a different conclusion, the judges appear to place less emphasis on the expert witness of the private part. Witness statements from privately appointed experts are not given the same status as those made by experts appointed by statutory services. Far too often we observe that biological parents, without sufficient financial resources, do not have any chance of a fair hearing when faced with a large and powerful statutory service. Consequently, we see that decisions, though based upon weak observations and unverified interpretations, are applied through all levels of the legal system.
On the basis of the portrayed representation above we contend that care arrangement decisions in an unknown number of cases fail at all professional and legal levels, and that devised safeguard mechanisms do not function as intended. For the families concerned the consequences are serious. Immigrant families are particularly vulnerable --they lose their children without opportunity to understand Norwegian culture, such as e.g. the Norwegian zero tolerance for physical punishment in child rearing. Many immigrants have grown up with physical punishment through generations, and they sincerely believe this to be in the best interest of their child.
Trust, respect and dialogue are most necessary tools in order to change what in Norway is considered unacceptable child raising violence. In the absence of these tools, a crisis of confidence between the NCWS and minority groups will emerge. We have closely observed this situation in many Norwegian municipalities. When conveying the explicit Norwegian view of success and failure in building good child care, a more self-critical stance is needed. At the same time, in Norway we need to develop increased insight into specific expressions of emotional attachment and care, as these are exposed in other cultures.
At times there is a shocking disagreement between the competencies found within the Local NCWS and its power, which this public institution is authorised to exert over families. It is hard to envision any other area in our society where public service interferes so radically in people's private lives.
Today’s situation shows that many of the functions and services of NCWS are not functioning at a standard justifying its use of power. Within NCWS, examples show that authoritarian and closed systems/cultures are nurtured, thus exposing children and vulnerable families with the risk of being abused by community decisions. Legal protection in Norway is challenged, when the voices of children and vulnerable families stand minor chances of being heard.
Hardship is felt particularly strongly by families having insignificant financial or social resources to initiate their own legal case, and promote this through the legal system. A naive belief held by many is that NCWS protects all children in the best possible way, and that the checks and balances built into the system are adequate. Unfortunately, this reinforces a sense of powerlessness felt by those children and families, who experience the opposite.
Oslo, June 15th, 2015
Einar C. Salvesen; Gro Hillestad Thune; Elvis Nwosu; Thea Totland; Nina Witoszhek