30 September 2018


Marianne Haslev Skånland:

Calls from the engine room ignored on deck,
and how to improve the reputation of Barnevernet

Another conference about child protection has just taken place in Oslo, arranged by
Bufdir itself and aimed at leaders and employees on municipal and state level responsible for carrying through the child protection reform.

Rumours, so far unconfirmed, have it that quite a bit of time at the conference was spent on the question of how the tattered reputation of the CPS, both at home and abroad, could be remedied, but that people in charge wriggled considerably at how difficult they thought it was.


All our authorities and our politicians have absorbed a rule they have made for themselves: that they "cannot" discuss individual CPS cases, nor will they do anything about them. (I have
elsewhere argued, and I maintain, that this amounts to a denial of responsibility and can lead to violation of important human rights.)

At the conference, a speaker from Bufdir, talking about percentages of satisfied "users" of CPS services etc, was apparently asked whether he had ever read the documents of an individual case. The answer was no, he had not.


A vision takes form in my mind: I actually know how Barnevernet – the Norwegian child protection system (CPS) – can easily obtain a vastly improved reputation!

The vision is helped materially by a short, incisive piece in Danish, written by Ivan Gerling some time before 2005 but still good as gold (translations in the following are mine – MHS):
Opråb fra maskinrummet! (A call from the engine room!)

He writes that many scholars and social workers are slowly and reluctantly forced to admit that there are inherent problems in what the CPS does, but will not "grab the root of the nettle" (an even better expression than "go the the root of the problem", I think). Instead they talk of "cooperating better with the family" or "improving the case treatment routines", and shy away from facing the unacceptability of depriving children of their parents and their home, in cases where no serious violence nor abuse has taken place.

Gerling says:
"At arbejde på at forbedre kvaliteten af udeanbringelser og tvangsfjernelser i de få tilfælde, hvor der enten ikke er andre muligheder eller ikke er bedre alternativer - er som at male skibets mastetop mens vandet flyder ind i maskinrummet fra et kæmpe hul i bunden."
(To work on improving the quality of out-of-home placements and forcible removals in the few cases where either no other possibilities exist or there are no better alternatives – is like painting the top of the ship's mast while the water is pouring into the engine room from a gigantic hole in the bottom.)


So then, here is my recipe:

Take heed! The engine room is calling!

Instead of painting the CPS mast, all the top people on deck, viz responsible for directing the CPS, including of course the leaders of Bufdir and the Minister for Children and Equality and her next-in-command, should immediately

• read 10 individual cases each;

• get together, two or three at a time, seeking out the families and asking them, respectfully, about the truth of their case and what the family wants now;

• form an emergency committee with the government's power to execute immediate decisions to set the children free from CPS control;

• give the children every practical assistance to leave foster care if they want to, and to go home to their family or to associate freely with their relatives all they want.


It might save the ship from sinking!

I predict that as soon as the emergency committee has dealt with the first 50 cases in this manner, local CPS offices will have caught the gist of it and will change their own routines. (Well, a number of CPS leaders may have to be put kindly and firmly into temporary care facilities, away from their offices.) There is also some chance that the county committees and the courts which order foster care will begin to be somewhat more careful of how they judge CPS cases. Maybe they could start on the road back to a rule of law?

It would probably have a wondrous effect, wouldn't it, on the reputation of the CPS and the authorities which rule it? At home, with the affected families and those they spread the good news to, as well as abroad.