The Oslo Times: “Barnevernet’s action of ripping families apart causing more harm that good”

The Oslo Times: "Barnevernet's action of ripping families apart causing more harm that good"By Prabalta Rijal – International Correspondent for The Oslo Times

“Though the countries in the western world have come under fire for trusting social workers and foster care rather than parents for raising children, taking children away from their families is usually the last resort in many countries. In Norway, however, a lot of families claim that something as minor as, ‘a child not meeting the parents eye’,  can result to the child being taken away from the parents.

The Romanian family’s case in which the five Bodnariu children had been taken from their parents in 2015, for accepting that their parents spanked them  occasionally, has caused an outrage, because the five children including a three-month-old baby have been taken away and are under foster care as the welfare service allegedly found the parents unfit to raise their kids.

At first sight, it’s easy to point a finger at the parents, and maybe they are at fault, but is punishing your child make you an unfit parent? were these children going to school with bruises, were they mentally and emotionally traumatised because of the way they were being treated at home? If they weren’t was such a harsh step necessary? Barnevernet seems to think it was because according to them the parents are unfit to raise their five children.

The world thinks otherwise, as this isnt the first time such an action has been taken by the child protection service. In fact just a couple of weeks back Czech President Miloš Zeman compared Barnevernet to the Nazi for refusing to return Czech boys to their mother.

The Barnevernet under scrutiny

The Barnevernet has come under scrutiny for various reasons and has in fact been portrayed as a bully by the international media for its indifferent handling of critical family matters. However, according to the authorities, Barnevernet is only doing its job and upholding Norwegian law, as what happens inside a family according to minister Solveig Horne is no longer a family matter. “What happens in the family is no longer a private matter, she said before adding that religious freedom is strong in Norway. “At the same time, we must stress that hitting a child, and violence or assaults on children, is forbidden by law in Norway. No one can say that ‘according to my religion, it’s allowed to beat children.Under Norwegian law, that’s not allowed,”she said while supporting the actions of the infamous child welfare policy which has caused a stir worldwide.According to her, children enjoy widespread rights in Norway, have a right to protection and must be taken care of under terms of Norway’s child protection laws.

But the Bodnariu children’s case isn’t the first of its kind, though it is the most talked about case. In 2014 two children from an Indian family working in Norway were snatched from their family because of cultural differentiation. In fact according to reports the children had been taken from the parents because, the four-year-old son was being fed by his mother’s hand, did not have appropriate toys and slept in his father’s bed. There was no diaper changing table for the baby and when she was being breastfed, the mother only cradled the baby’s head and not the whole body.

However, these are completely acceptable ways of raising children in India, and even today eating with one’s hands is a common practice in Asian countries. But the question here is, how does not having a diaper table, and supporting the child’s head while breastfeeding her and not having proper toys qualify for children to be taken away from their parents? 

In this particular case, the children hadn’t even been punished, they were being raised like they would have been in India. But the Children Protection Service saw this as evidence of an ‘emotional disconnect’, and had placed the children in an emergency shelter before placing them in two separate foster homes, to be reunited with their parents only when they turn 18. Until then the parents can see them thrice a year for an hour each.Without even thinking once how a child who needed his father around to fall asleep would sleep in an empty room, how a child who is so used to eating off his mother’s hands would have dinner without her. How a child being breastfed would adjust to strangers? CPS took these children away and expected them to live happily ever after without their parents.

Marianne Haslev Skanland, a professor emeritus in Bergen, in her blog article  “Child protection in Norway:  Making parents pay”, clearly states that  when the authorities take a family’s children, they place the children with foster parents or in institutions which are paid large sums of money for the upkeep of the children. “Foster parents normally receive very good payment, often split up between different sums so that the total does not show: so much compensation for costs of food and clothing etc for the child, so much over another budget post for additional expenses, so much as straight wages or compensation for having to stay at home instead of having a job, so much for extra holidays away from the foster children, who are then sent off to other relief-fosterers. There are cases in which a foster family has got the CPS to pay for buying them an extra car (and cars are hugely expensive in Norway, mostly because of taxes that go directly to the state) because the foster family kept two foster children, who had to be driven to different kindergartens in the morning – or the CPS has paid for the foster family to build on their house to get an extra room for the foster child. The charges made by institutions for foster children are of course extremely high,” she writes. However, in most cases the real parents are forced to pay up for their children’s upkeep.

In another article she has revealed that according to Norway’s Statistics Bureau, as many as 12,492 children received ‘placement measures’; between 2004 and 2010, as many as 19 out of 1,000 children born to immigrant parents were taken away from their families. CPS budgets have also correspondingly gone up. In 2010 it spent 7.7 billion NOK (krone), up from 930 million of the previous year.

As the parents struggle to bring their children home, questions arise as to whether children in foster care receive the love that they deserve from their parents, is it even humane to take a breastfeeding child away from its mother, what effect will these government actions have on the children and the real parents? Isn’t the protection of family life government responsibility too?

Psychological effect of separation on children

Studies show that children who  are separated from their parents at an early age turn out to become more aggressive, insecure and more negative towards things around them, than children who grow up with their parents.

“In particular, children raised in institutions with little opportunity for interaction with warm and responsive adults have been found to show severe socioemotional development problems (Tizard & Hodges, 1978; Zeanah et al., 2005). Research on the effects of foster care has shown that maltreated children who are placed in foster care often exhibit higher levels of problem behaviors than children who were not removed from the care of their parents, particularly if the foster caregivers are unfamiliar to the child. The most commonly held explanation for these findings is that disruptions to the parent-child attachment are so unsettling to children, even those who were maltreated by their parents, that they result in negative socio-emotional outcomes ranging from mild to quite severe (Lawrence, Carlson, & Egeland, 2006),” A study report published by the US national medical library states. 

Another study further states that such traumatic separations can lead to delayed cognitive abilities in language acquisition, and common regressive behavior like bedwetting. Children who go through traumatic separation at an early age tend to have low self-esteem, a general distrust of others, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, socio-moral immaturity, and inadequate social and communication skills.

Human and Child Rights in Question

In 2015 Norway was still on top of the chart for the best country to be live in, however the lack of transparency in the way that the Child Protection Services  works has risen serious questions to a system the world had overlooked for so long.

In fact the issues that are coming into light are completely against the Universal declaration of Human Rights, specifically articles Article 12, 16 and 18,which state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks; The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State and Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

“We are not saying that the CPS is all bad, because one can never be too careful when it comes to children. There are parents out there who completely neglect and abuse their children and such kind of intervention is required in such cases. However, in cases of many families coming from different backgrounds, ethnicities and culture, a line needs to be drawn as to what is acceptable and what is not,” an Oslo Times reader, wrote in an email. 

Similarly, according to child right activists, separating children from their families is traumatizing for both the children and parents so taking children away from home should be the last resort. “Proper behavioral patterns of the child need to be watched, parents need to be brought in for guidance and counseling, the state instead of taking the children away can show parents what is acceptable and what is not, inspection and care should be provided in the home first, before the child is ripped apart from its parents and taken to foster care,” said an education expert who is currently residing in the UK.

“Every child has the right to a family, to loving and caring parents, and no amount of money can actually buy children the love of parents or caregivers who are raising them with the love they feel from their hearts and not for money, which is actually happening in Norway. These foster homes are receiving so much money for the upkeep of these children that the motives of the foster care providers themselves are questionable,” added Andrei a Romanian citizen and CPS critic.

What will children who are spoilt to the core grow up to become, what kind of future will these children have? whatever happened to the belief that charity begins at home? Families are important social institutions which nurture help children develop into responsible adults.Punishments and discipline are both a part of growing up. In the Bodnariu family’s case the parents have admitted to light physical punishments that caused no physical harm, which in no case can be called physical abuse. But, nevertheless, the children were taken away because they were being raised in Christian traditions.

Though the bible does say, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” it doesn’t say children should be severely beaten. And the parents in this case had lightly spanked them occasionally which caused no physical or mental harm to the children, though this is illegal in Norway, light spanking is accepted in many parts of Europe including Romania, so it should not have resulted in the children being taken away from home.

Contradicting Cultures

Today over 3,000 children from immigrant families are believed to be in Norwegian state custody out of which most of them belong to migrant families, mostly because Norwegian authorities fail to accept that people living in Norway may have or come from different cultural backgrounds. The Bodnariu children aren’t the only victims, children from various communities are being taken away because of cultural differences this raises serious human rights issues as Norway’s Child Protection Services fail to recognize cultural differences, in one other case the child had been taken away for just speaking Lithuanian.

So far, from what has come in to limelight, cultural unacceptance and intolerance are still very much prevalent among Norwegian authorities as practices that are considered perfectly normal in other cultures have been deemed inappropriate and have been ignored by them, leading to severe actions which disrupt family life. In this case, the proverb, when in Rome be like the Romans, holds true to Norway.Though Corporal punishment is illegal in the country, it does not qualify for children to be taken away from their parents. The authorities need to first counsel, train parents on child rearing and disciplining methods accepted by the law. If the authorities themselves are guilty of cultural discrimination and ripping families apart, how can we ever overcome xenophobia?”