Norway child welfare updates
Facing mounting pressure following controversial cases, Barnevernet has clarified its practice
The Norwegian Government has introduced new guidelines for how local authorities of the Norwegian Child Welfare Service (Barnevernet) should deal with cross-border child welfare cases. The move comes following a number of controversial cases that have led to angry protests around the world.
Norwegian embassies in several countries have faced a wave of demonstrations against Barnevernet. An anti-Barnevernet Facebook group, “Norway, give us back the children you stole,” said that over 60,000 people have joined protests since January.
The movement began picking up steam after a case in which five children were forcibly removed from their Norwegian-Romanian parents for suspected physical violence. The protest quickly gained momentum, though, with a number of similar cases involving nationals of other countries and an international “day of action” is planned for April 16.
The Norwegian-Romanian couple was separated from their children after being charged with violence against minors. According to a report in VG, the parents admitted during an interview on Romanian television to having smacked their children on the backside and pulled them by their ears, despite being aware that disciplining children physically is illegal in Norway.
Supporters of the couple have claimed via Romanian media that the Norwegian state is discriminating against them due to their Pentecostal Christian beliefs.
“Barnevernet may also have been motivated, in seizing the children, by an anti-religious animus towards the family,” lawyer Peter Costea said in a blog post published by the site culturavietti.ro. Costea also claims that the “religious rights” of the couple may have been violated.
“The way Barnevernet has acted in this cased has provoked all of us. We are now intensifying our work towards a day of action, as well as spreading information about the case to politicians,” pastor Cristian Ionescu, the spokesperson for the movement behind the petition and demonstrations, told VG.
The current international controversy is hardly the first of its kind Norway has faced. Citizens of Poland, Russia, Lithuania, India, and Brazil, among others, have accused Norway of abusing authority and ruining families.
Czech president Miloš Zeman went as far as to compare Norway’s foster care system to Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn adoption system and asked King Harald V to intervene in the case of a Czech mother whose two Czech boys were forcibly taken into care.
Other parents have said that the Norwegian authorities take children for very questionable reasons, including a Lithuanian woman who accused Barnevernet of taking her child into care because she was forced to “wear a pretty dress” and a Brazilian mother who said the authorities tried to forcibly take her child because she didn’t feed her daughter in the Norwegian way.
In 2011, another case received considerable coverage when the Norwegian child welfare authority took two Indian children into care, a decision the children’s parents claimed was taken because they fed them by hand and slept together with them in the same bed, both entirely normal in India. The authorities released the two children a year later to be cared by the couple’s uncle in India.
According to the latest available statistics 6,737 children were taken into care in 2012, some 1,049 were immigrants or born to immigrant parents.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry confirmed that a number of its embassies have experienced demonstrations and email campaigns.
“We have tried to publish factual information on how Barnevernet works and its legal framework, but it’s not a simple job, since we’re dealing with a campaign that willfully distorts the facts,” spokesperson Frode Andersen told VG.
“In a Norwegian context, such accusations [of Nazism] appear to be obviously unfair,” Andersen continued. “At the same time, we are seeing these cases used in domestic competitions to see who can make the harshest criticisms of Norway.”
In an apparent response to the international criticism, the Norwegian Government announced on Feb. 17 that it had released a circular to local authorities clarifying what it calls “child welfare cases across national borders.”
“The circular makes it clear that the child welfare service must always try to contact the child’s family abroad before initiating a care order case,” Solveig Horne, the Minister of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion, said in a press release.
“If the child has strong connections to another country, the child welfare service must assess whether it is in the child’s best interest to receive follow-up abroad, rather than issuing a care order which means that the child must be moved to a foster home in Norway,” she added.
Tomáš Zdechovsky, a Czech MEP, told The Local that he welcomed Norway’s move: “I consider this news to be a huge satisfaction because Norway finally admitted the existence of the problem. Yes, it can be argued that so far it was made only indirectly, however this does not change the fact that this is a huge shift. This is the first step, and I hope it will be followed by others,” he said.
The government said the new guidelines have been issued after local authorities have asked for clarification in how to deal with cases involving families in which at least one parent is not Norwegian. The government said the new circular “will make it easier for the case processing officers in the child welfare service to know how to proceed.”
According to the press statement, guidelines on how to examine and follow up on children with connections to more than one country will be provided, as well as clearer procedures on whether the embassy or authorities of another country should be consulted in welfare cases.
“If we intervene in the family situation at an early stage and establish a good dialogue, we can build trust and cooperate on assistance measures, and in this way address the problems before they get too big,” Horne said.
The press release also confirmed that Norway will ratify the 1996 Hague Convention during 2016, providing rules for the voluntary placement of children in foster homes in other member countries or transferring welfare cases to other countries if it is considered to be in the child’s best interest.
This article was originally published on The Local.
It also appeared in the Feb. 26, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.