the child protection service (CPS) –
should not be given more responsibility
By Arne Seland
This article was originally published in Norwegian
in the newspaper Dagbladet on 12 July
It is published here in English by the
generous consent of the author.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland
At the time of the publication in Norwegian, the Ministry
of child and family affairs was under the leadership
Inga Marte Thorkildsen
Socialist Left Party (SV).
experience is not that Barnevernet engages in too few
cases. The problem is that they far too often engage in the
wrong cases. They take children in cases where it should
never have happened.
Minister of Children and Equality Inga Marte Thorkildsen
has been very active regarding the work done by Barnevernet
- the child protection service. She wants what is best for
children. The question is whether her solutions are the
At the general meeting of the party SV earlier this year
she said that "Barnevernet must enter into cases earlier".
Barnevernet received increased grants and changes were made
in the regulations regarding their work. The biological
principle was to have a weaker position. The last proposal
from the Minister is that Barnevernet is to take part in
negotiations at the Family Offices.
Both proposals imply added responsibility for Barnevernet
for the children and to the detriment of the parents.
Earlier, the Minister has come out with strong criticism of
the work of Barnevernet. There has been every reason for
criticism. Barnevernet has serious challenges in its work
and these problems must be solved. The problems in
Barnevernet are too serious to be solved with money and new
The investigation after 22 July showed us that the problems
within the police were neither due to rules and regulations
nor to a lack of resources. There is no reason to believe
that this situation is unique to the police. Barnevernet
and the police are the two instances in Norway authorised
to employ the strongest kinds of action towards the
Barnevernet is already licenced to act very quickly.
Through emergency decisions they are able to fetch children
out of the family directly. The problem does not lie in the
regulations. Rather, the competence and proficiency of
those at work in Barnevernet and their routines of case
handling must be improved.
Emergency decisions were meant to be used in situations of
crisis. This has changed, however. Its use has increased to
such an extent that emergency decisions are now more common
than ordinary decitions of care transfer. The increase is
not due to a falling off in the conditions which children
live under. It is due to Barnevernet having lowered the
threshold. This has happened in spite of a series of
examples showing that such decisions have caused
irreparable harm to children.
The change in regulations which was made, then, was
completely unnecessary in order to be able to intervene
earlier. Despite this, a weakening of the biological
principle has been chosen. It follows from the biological
principle that the clear starting point is that the
children are to live with their parents. It is without
relevance that somebody else might possibly give better
care. The question is whether the parents can give good
enough care. Growing up with one's parents has been
considered to have great intrinsic value.
To a great extent, a biological family sticks together
throughout life. Foster homes do not. Very many foster
children gradually lose contact with the foster family
after they have turned 18. They often find themselves
alone. They have lost contact both with their biological
family and with the foster family.
From 1990 to 2002, Norsk institutt for by- og
regionforskning (Norwegian Institute for Urban and
Regional Research) followed 100,000 children
and youths who were under CPS assistance. The research
covered the whole country. The results speak for
themselves. NIBR has summarised its conclusions about
1. Three out of four children have received social aid
after the age of 18.
2. Higher mortality.
3. More suicides.
4. They miss close relashionships, including when they are
5. Three out of ten manage well in adult life. 70 per cent
of them do not.
An impression has been created in Norway saying that the
problem with Barnevernet is that they do too little and
that all will be well if the authorities take over. The
cases that receive most focus in the media are those in
which the CPS has not intervened and the children have had
to live with violence and abuse. The stories are often
terrible and the passivity of Barnevernet has been
impossible to understand.
My experience, though, is not that Barnevernet intervenes
in too few cases. The problem is that they far too often
intervene in the wrong cases. They take children in cases
where it should never have happened. The legal protection
of the children is also limited. An arrested criminal has
far better legal rights than small children who are without
any cause taken away from their parents and are placed with
If a criminal is to be held a few hours in detention, this
has to be considered by an experienced police lawyer.
Within three days the case must be brought before the
courts. A little child being acutely placed with strangers
may have to wait for several months for a more meticulous
check of whether the conditions for this are satisfied.
Now, Inga Marte Thorkildsen wants Barnevernet brought into
the negotiations between parents carried out at the Family
Offices. This is obligatory negotiation which all parents
with children under age have to go through in connection
with separation and divorce.
The function of the Family Offices has been unsatisfactory
from the start. Barnevernet, however, is not the right
instance to call on to make it better. Barnevernet should
take care of children in trouble. The Family Office is a
place everybody has to attend. Most parents take care of
their children in the very best way possible. Their problem
is limited to cooperating with each other. This is not a
task for Barnevernet.
The reason, among other things, lies in how Barnevernet is
constructed. Barnevernet has two sides to it. One is the
assistance side. Assistance is given to help the family so
that the children can remain in their home. The other side
of Barnevernet is the one that takes your children from
you. It is usually done by the same case handler who has
previously shown nothing but the helping hand. The double
role of Barnevernet means that only those forced to it will
cooperate with them. Barnevernet brings with it a strong
stigma and great insecurity. That is not what we need more
of at the Family Offices.
The Family Offices have had a long time to improve their
quality. When they have over many years not succeeded, they
can not be expected to do so in the future. The only
sensible thing is to close them down.
We will not for that matter be without assistance for those
who want guided negotiations. Several areas for negotiation
have long existed in Norway. In addition to at the Family
Offices, many choose arbitration in the primary courts in
the court system, the district courts.
The district courts have long had very good facilites for
arbitration. One is actually followed up over time and the
procedure is administrated by a judge. Access to a
professional expert is provided and does not have to be
paid for, an expert who can travel to the people concerned,
talk to children, adults, school etc. In the district
courts' handling, a better foundation is laid for the
parents to come to an agreement, and the results are much
Strong forces want to reduce the arbitration possibilities
in the district courts, however. The facilities have become
so good and so well-known that these cases take up a lot of
the capacity of the courts. If the children are really so
important, the fact that so many parents choose the best
place to negotiate should be considered positive. Instead
it is seen as a problem.
It is easy to say that one gives priority to the children.
Actual practice is often different. If cases concerning
money or real estate were on the increase in the court
system, I hardly think we would see pressure to have these
cases transferred to special boards or poorly functioning
Child and Equality Minister Inga Marte Thorkildsen has a
chance here to show that children are really her focus. She
can close down the Family Offices, increase the capacity of
the district courts, and improve the quality in