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16 November 2018
Revised 20 November 2018



Marianne Haslev Skånland:

Some professional child experts (3)
Lars Smith, professor emeritus of psychology


Translations from Norwegians are mine. 
MHS



Lars Smith
has worked in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo. In August 2015 he wrote on the University of Oslo's web pages that developmental psychology was his special interest, and said:
"Jeg arbeider for tiden særlig med studien Liten i Norge, som er en prospektiv longitudinell studie av mental helse og differensiell sårbarhet hos barn i sped- og småbarnsalder."
(At the moment, I am working especially with the study Liten i Norge (Small in Norway), which is a prospective longitudinal study of mental health and differential vulnerability in children of baby age and as small children.)

Lars Smith is known to defend energetically the child protection service (CPS) Barnevernet and the activities of psychologists in Barnevernet. Particularly well-known is the following statement:

"Dersom vi mener at barnevernet skal basere sitt arbeid på grunnregelen om barnets beste, bør det lages en forskrift etter mønster av ovennevnte juridiske prinsipp: det er bedre at ti uskyldige foreldre utsettes for omsorgsvedtak enn at ett lite barn må vokse opp med vold, rus eller overgrep."
(If we think that Barnevernet should base its work on the fundamental rule of the child's best interest, then a rule should be passed on the pattern of the above-mentioned judicial principle: it is better that ten innocent parents are subject to a decision of taking the children into care than that one small child has to grow up with violence, substance abuse/alcohol, or abuse.)


Lars Smith:
Barnevernets feil
(The mistakes of Barnevernet)
Morgenbladet, 19 June 2015


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His reasoning was sharply countered here:

Fridtjof P. Gundersen:
Reinspikka ideologi fra Lars Smith
(Sheer ideology from Lars Smith)
Morgenbladet, 26 June 2015

Gundersen says:

"Utsagnet, som får de fleste av oss til å blekne, har gjort professoren til helt på sosiale medier blant barnevernansatte, psykologer og statsansatte i barneforvaltningen."
(The statement, which makes most of us pale, has given the professor the status of hero on social media among CPS workers, psychologists and state employees in the 'child administration'.)

"I dagens Norge er barneverntjenestene og deres sakkyndige i urovekkende grad opptatt av å mikroanalysere samspillet mellom barn og foreldre for å finne holdepunkter for at god nok omsorg ikke foreligger. Hva som er god nok (følelsesmessig) omsorg er høyst uklart. Kriteriene for vurdering er utilgjengelige, og det finnes ingen felles vedtatt eller akseptert standard. Det eneste som er klart, er at det ikke skal mye til for å gripe inn."
(In today'sNorway, the CPS and their experts are to a disquieting degree concerned with micro-analysing interaction between children and parents in order to find indications which can justify the conclusion that sufficiently good care is not present. What constitutes sufficiently good (emotional) care is extremely unclear. The criteria for assessment are inaccessible, and no common, decided or accepted standard exists. All that is clear is that it does not take much for the CPS to intervene.)

"Nylig opplevde jeg en fylkesnemndsleder som ble rasende fordi faglig skolerte vitner kritiserte de sakkyndiges rapport."
(I recently had the experience of a county board leader being furious because qualified expert witnesses criticised the report of the appointed experts.)

"Smith er en størrelse innen norsk barnepsykologi, hans bøker om tilknytning har preget pensumlistene. I kronikken hans skinner det ideologiske grunnlaget igjennom, og jeg mistenker at denne ideologien har vært med på å forme barnevernets skjevutvikling.
    Professorens inngrepsiver har klare paralleller til idéen om at samfunnet bør ta seg av barneoppdragelsen, en idé som ble lansert av Marx’ parhest Friedrich Engels, som ville forvandle privathusholdningen til en samfunnsmessig industri og derved skape likhet og klasseløshet."
(Smith is a star in Norwegian child psychology, his books about attachment have had great influence on the required reading lists. In his article, his ideological basis shines through, and I suspect this ideology of having contributed to the faulty development of the CPS Barnevernet.
    The professor's urge to intervene has clear parallels to the idea that society should take care of child raising, an idea launched by Marx's buddy Friedrich Engels, who wanted to convert private households into a societal industry and through this means create equality and classlessness.)

"Viljen til å la ni barn vokse opp uten sine foreldre for å redde ett barn fra en dårlig oppvekst har ingenting med psykologi eller barnefaglighet å gjøre. Det er reinspikka ideologi, en ideologi som i de fleste sammenhenger setter staten over individet og som ikke respekterer verken barna eller familien."
(The willingness to let nine children grow up without their parents in order to save one child from a bad childhood has nothing to do with psychology or expertise on children. It is sheer ideology, an ideology which under most circumstances puts the state above the individual and which respects neither children nor the family.)

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Equally clear and insightful are the comments here:

Anonymous:
Barnevernets feil: En elegant språklig finte
(The mistakes of Barnevernet: An elegant linguistic trick)
Om barnevernet – Etterrettelig informasjon om barnevernet, 22 August 2018
(About Barnevernet – Dependable information about Barnevernet)

The fact that this writer is anonymous is something of a weakness. However, the writer quotes directly what Smith himself wrote, and comments on that, so that it is possible to check his reasoning.

About the idea of the 10 innocent parents against the one child, he says:
"Hva med de ni uskyldige barna? Altså barna til de uskyldige foreldrene? (Egentlig er det nok mer enn ni siden det sikkert er søsken i disse familiene, og alle blir jo som regel tatt.) Professoren mener at for hvert barn som rettmessig tas, er det altså greit at 9+ uskyldige barn gjennomgår alvorlig traumatiserende atskillelse fra foreldrene (det er godt dokumentert at atskillelse fra fungerende foreldre uten unntak er traumatiserende) og overføres til et system som noen ganger fungerer tilfredsstillende men hvor det er solid dokumentasjon for at det som oftest gjør det stikk motsatte.
    Skal virkelig samfunnet akseptere at de 9+ uskyldige barna risikerer å bli gjort til glassjenter og -gutter? Til drapsmaskiner og dophuer? At de får dårlig skolegang og dårlig helse? Dokumentasjonen på at risikoen for dette er betydelig større i barnevernet enn utenfor, er formidabel og solid som granitt."
(What about the nine innocent children? That is: the children of the innocent parents? (Really there are probably more than nine, since there are sure to be siblings in these families, and all of them are normally taken.) The professor thinks that for each child taken justifiably, it is all right that 9+ innocent children are put through seriously traumatising separation from their parents (separation from functioning parents is well documented to be traumatising, without exception) and are transferred to a system which sometimes functions adequately but which has been solidly documented to usually do the opposite.
    Is society really to accept that the 9+ innocent children risk being turned into glass girls and glass boys? Into killing machines and drug addicts? Accept that they will have a poor education and poor health? The documentation is formidable of the risk of this being considerably greater within Barnevernet than outside – formidable and solid as granite.)
('The case of the Glass Girl' is a horrendous instance of long, atrocious treatment of a young girl in institutions, exposed in a series of articles in Stavanger Aftenblad as this treatment was still going on in 2016.)

About Smith's way of expressing himself:
"De som leser kronikken vil kanskje, når de ser nærmere etter, også legge merke til hans gjennomgående devaluering av andres synspunkter og utsagn: «Det finnes foreldre som mener…», «det finnes foreldre som anklager…», den ene samfunnsdebattanten «mener» og den andre «hevder», til og med Aftenposten «hevder» og «det skal være overlevert en bekymringsmelding».
(Readers of the article will maybe, when they look closely, also notice his pervasive devaluation of the points of view and opinions of others: «There are parents who think...», «there are parents who accuse...», one debater of social issues «thinks» and another «claims», even Aftenposten «claims» and «a message of concern is said to have been delivered».)

«Det er sannsynligvis riktig at noen psykologer har for tette bånd til barnevernstjenesten» – dokumentasjonen på dette levner ingen tvil. Det er ikke sannsynligvis riktig, det er riktig.
    «at mange barn som blir omsorgsovertatt ikke alltid får tiltak som holder mål» – når bare 63% av de foreldrene som KUN har fått hjelpetiltak er fornøyde med tiltakene, har nok barnevernet en vei å gå der også.
    «Hvis det nå skapes et generelt inntrykk at vi har å gjøre med en offentlig forvaltning som griper urettmessig inn i menneskers privatsfære, vil man lett komme til å fremme det som er i foreldres interesse på bekostning av prinsippet om barnets beste«. Man trenger ikke skape dette inntrykket, det er i henhold til de faktiske forhold. Det er faktisk slik. Fremmer man med det foreldrenes interesse på bekostning av prinsippet om barnas beste?"
(«It is probably correct that some psychologists are too closely associated with the CPS» – the documentation of this leaves no doubt. It is not probably correct, it is correct.
    «that many children who are taken into care do not
always receive measures which are up to scratch» – when only 63% of the parents who have only been given help measures are satisfied with the measures, Barnevernet probably has some way to go there too.
    «If a general impression is now created of a public administration which intervenes unjustifiably in people's private sphere, one will easily slip into furthering the interests of parents at the expense of the principle of the child's best interest.» One does not have to
create this impression, it is in accordance with facts. It really is so. Does that further the interests of parents at the cost of the principle of the child's best interest?")

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Back to Lars Smith's article in Morgenbladet:
"Å beskylde barnevernet for å være et autoritært og lukket system som utsetter barn og sårbare familier for myndighetsovergrep, er likevel ikke riktig vei å gå. Barna er alltid den svakeste part, og trenger en offentlig instans som anerkjennes fordi den har som mål å arbeide for deres beste."
(To accuse Barnevernet of being an authoritarian and closed system which exposes children and vulnerable families to abuse on the part of the authorities, is still not the right way to go. The children are always the weakest party, and need a public instance which is respected because it has as its goal to work for their best interest.)

So Smith thinks that to declare oneself to work for children's best interest is in itself enough to be able to claim our respect, apparently regardless of whether good intentions help children in actual practice or whether it leads to the opposite result.

Gundersen:
"Kjeden av et barnevern som mangler kompetanse til å vurdere tilknytning, uklare og ikke-overprøvbare inngrepskriterier, reelt sett inhabile sakkyndige, og dommere uten barnefaglig kompetanse skaper vår tids største rettssikkerhetsproblem. Det dreier seg om et system av feil. Systemet rammer den mest sårbare av alle situasjoner i forholdet mellom stat og individ, å fjerne et barn fra foreldrene."
(The chain of a child protection service lacking competence to assess attachment, unclear and non-negotiable criteria for intervention, actually prejudiced experts, and judges with no expertise on children create our times' largest problem of lack of security under the law. We are up against a system of faults. The system hits the most vulnerable of all situations in the relationship between state and individual, that of removing a child from its parents.)

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Time after time in his article, Lars Smith presents himself as a thoroughgoing believer in attachment theory. (Cf related articles below.) This is a theory which by differently oriented, scientific psychology is not judged to have much support through validly conducted research at all. Smith, on the other hand, maintains that the theory possesses diagnostic tools giving reliable conclusions, and that it should of course be practiced in child protection. He is blind to the fact that attachment between children and their own parents consists of a love and a feeling of togetherness which is independent of the special 'signs' Smith believes to be symptoms of different types of attachment. He also trivialises – as is usual in the child protection sector – the long term importance for a child of growing up with its own parents. Centrally in Smith's view is that he does not understand that to hinder and damage parents in their parenthood also damages the children.

Smith seeks to make his views impressively 'scholarly'. Some examples:
"Emosjonell mishandling i sped- og småbarnsalderen er den vanligste årsaken til desorganisert tilknytning, der barna mangler en handlingsstrategi i tilknytningsrelevante situasjoner og viser frykt for dem de er tilknyttet."
(Emotional abuse at baby and small child age is the most usual cause of disorganised attachment, in which the children lack a strategy of action in attachment-relevant situations and show fear of those they are attached to.)


Cocksure prognoses?:
Smith:
"Hvis kravet til evidensbasert omsorgssvikt er strengt, innebærer det at en del av foreldrene vil få beholde omsorgen for barnet sitt til tross for at det har funnet sted vanskjøtsel, mishandling eller overgrep. Barnet må i så fall leve videre i en dysfunksjonell familie med alt det kan medføre av atypisk tilknytning og risiko for senere psykopatologi."
(If the demand for evidence-based care failure is strict, this implies that some parents will keep their child in their care although negligence, physical abuse or sexual abuse have taken place. If so, the child will have to continue living in a dysfunctional family with all that can lead to of untypical attachment and risk of later psychopathology.)

"Hvis kravet til evidens er noe mindre strengt, øker sannsynligheten for at det blir iverksatt en eller annen form for barnevernstiltak. Flere barn vil da kunne få muligheten til å vokse opp i tryggere og mer utviklingsfremmende miljøer. Bare på den måten kan den vonde lenken av elendighet på tvers av generasjoner ha mulighet for å bli brutt."
(If the demand for evidence is relaxed, the likelihood increases of some kind of CPS action being put in place. More children will then have the possibility of growing up in safer and more development-enhancing environments. Only in this way can the hurtful chain of miserable conditions across generations have a possibility of being broken.)

So Smith recommends that no very clear demands should be placed on proving that the parents have neglected or abused the child. He holds that when the CPS & co 'think' that the family is 'dysfunctional' (how realistic is their judgment on this in the complicated world of reality?), then the CPS should pull the child out and 're-plant' it regardless, cf "Sosial arv" er en fiksjon ("Social inheritance" is fiction).
    The reigning philosophy could not have been expressed more clearly, the ideology of how children and parents are to be handled 'by those who know better'. This is pure cultural / environmental determinism, with quite one-sidedly materialistic conceptions of what in the 'environment' is of importantce, and Smith recommends that it is implemented by force. Cf The Raundal Committee's 'development-enhancing principle':
How Norwegian experts came to reject biological kinship as relevant in child welfare policy. Perhaps I may be allowed to repeat, once again: Child protection workers, caught in their own belief in the importance of the environment, the milieu, are blind towards the importance of growing up in one's own biological milieu. 
    The psychopathology which will according to Smith come in 'dysfunctional families', in fact turns up in quite another place: among children growing up in foster care and institutions. There, the statistics are frightening. They turn up in many contexts. Quite impressive are differences in health and death, such as shown for Norway in

Lars B. Kristofersen:
Barnevernbarnas helse. Uførhet og dødelighet i perioden 1990-2002
(The health of child protection children. Disability and morbidity in the period 1990-2002), (English summary pp 15-19) 
NIBR-report 2005:12

Kristofersen reports, among other things, 8 times as many suicides among foster children, in relation to the total number of foster children, as in the general child population.

A number of different research projects, Nordic and from other countries, are described in sections 8.2.0 - 8.2.4 'The evidence of scientific studies'
here. Some contexts showing marked differences between individuals growing up away from their families and comparably placed groups but living at home are mentioned in points (a) – (n) here, and relevant examples are also mentioned here:

Marianne Haslev SKånland:
Educating the young – better through cooperation with the child protection agency (CPS)?
21 December 2014

and in

 –  
Paying out compensation while creating the basis for more claims
24 March 2016

Sverre Kvilhaug points to further research
here.

Swedish research scholar Bo Vinnerljung, having surveyed Nordic studies and also much international work, concludes:
(p 315 (the summary in English)):
‘Long-term stable foster care does not see[m] to have improved outcome in adult age compared to growing up in "insufficient" family environments, identical to the birth homes of the foster children’
(p 90; transl.):
‘But one of the basic problems of public ward is that it has difficulties establishing permanency, both 'objectively' ..... and as a perceived situation for the foster children.’
(p 78; transl.):
‘All studies show similar or poorer results for foster children when compared to children from risk groups etc living at home. ...... In sum: some variations are found but nobody has found that foster children do better.’
(p 116; transl.):
‘There are several examples showing that notions about the type of social care having compensatory power have been put to shame through research about "results", ...’

Bo Vinnerljung (1996): Fosterbarn som vuxna (Foster children as adults) (English summary pp 306-16) 
Lund Studies in Social Welfare XIII 
Lund: Arkiv förlag. ISBN 91-7924-091-7  


Smith comes up with allegations about proof and connections which are hardly borne out:
Smith:
"Men alvorlig omsorgssvikt forekommer, og finner sted i minst 5 prosent av alle småbarnsfamilier. Det er et forsiktig anslag: epidemiologiske studier viser at om lag 15 prosent av alle småbarn har desorganisert tilknytning, noe som er sterkt relatert til betydelig omsorgssvikt."
(But serious care failure exists, and occurs in at least 5 per cent of all families with small children. This is a moderate estimate: epidemiological studies show about 15 per cent of all small children to have disorganised attachment, something which is strongly related to considerable care failure.)

Anonymous:
"«Alvorlig omsorgssvikt forekommer i minst 5 prosent av alle småbarnsfamilier.» Dette er sikre kasus for omsorgsovertakelse. Minst hvert tyvende barn skal altså rykkes opp med roten og plasseres i en familie som har meldt seg interessert i å ta imot et fosterbarn (-hva var motivasjonen?), eller en institusjon. En barnevernsinstitusjon. Kanskje et «enetiltak» slik hun som begikk drap på Sørlandssenteret satt på.
    Hvordan går det med tilknytningen da, tro, blir den mindre desorganisert?"
(«Serious care failure occurs in at least 5 per cent of all families with small children.» These are sure instances for taking-into-care. So at least one child in twenty is going to be pulled up by its roots and be placed in a family which has registered as interested in receiving a foster child (– what was the motivation?), or in an institution. A child protection institution. Perhaps «placement alone» like the one she was subjected to, the girl who carried out a killing at Sørlandssenteret.
    What happens to the attachment then, does it become less disorganised?)


Here is a suggested apology and a repudiation of liability which can be utilised by Barnevernet and the county boards, actually one frequently encountered, consisting of dramatising how 'difficult' their work is:
Smith:
"Et av de vanskeligste spørsmålene som barnevernet og fylkesnemndene står overfor, er hva som er «god nok» omsorg. Det er så store individuelle forskjeller når det gjelder barns sårbarhet og foreldres omsorgsutøvelse at det ikke kan gis noen oppskrift."
(One of the most difficult questions which Barnevernet and the county boards face is that of deciding what constitutes «good enough» care. Indivicual differences regarding children's vulnerability and parents' exercise of care are so great that it is not possible to give a recipe.)

Even so, Smith presumes that people like himself possess a professional expertise of a magnitude allowing him to come up with cocksure prognoses and comprehensive decisions of tearing families apart.


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In an interview article from 2009/2012, Smith expresses reservations against the belief that kindergarten is advantageous for very small children:

Barnehagen: – Tilfredsstiller ikke ettåringens behov
(The kindergarten: – Does not serve the needs of the one-year-olds)
The Research magazine Apollon, University of Oslo, 1 February 2012

A lot of what he says here sounds sensible. But his arguments spring purely from attachment theory. That is really not good justification or evidence.

" – Jeg kan vanskelig se at de minste barnas tilknytningsbehov kan tilfredsstilles fullt ut i en barnehagesituasjon, sier Lars Smith."
(It is difficult to see that the attachment needs of the smallest children can be satisfied fully in a kindergarten situation, says Lars Smith.)

"Smith viser til at studiet av barns tilknytning står helt sentralt i utviklingspsykologien.
– Den engelske barnepsykiateren John Bowlby er skaperen av moderne tilknytningsteori: Å knytte varige, følelsesmessige bånd til sine nærmeste omsorgspersoner, til noen som er større og sterkere, klokere – og samtidig snill, er en medfødt tilbøyelighet og helt grunnleggende for barnets utvikling. I årenes løp er det gjennomført en lang rekke studier i mange land, og teorien er i dag blant de aller best fundamenterte i faget, påpeker Smith, som også er seniorforsker ved Nasjonalt kompetansenettverk for sped- og småbarns psykiske helse."

(Smith emphasises the absolutely central place of children's attachment in developmental psychology.
– The English child psychiatrist John Bowlby is the creator of modern attachment theory: To make lasting, emotional bonds to their nearest care persons, to someone who is larger and stronger, wiser - and at the same time kind, is an inborn tendency and is quite fundamental for the development of the child. Over the years a long series of studies have been carried out in many countries, and the theory is today among the very best supported in the discipline, Smith points out. He is also a senior researcher at 'Nasjonalt kompetansenettverk for sped- og småbarns psykiske helse' (National competence network for baby and small children's mental health).

'Nasjonalt kompetansenettverk for sped- og småbarns psykiske helse' is connected to Sosial- og helsedirektoratet (the directorate of social matters and health) and Bufdir.


"Tilknytning er et atferdssystem; det er biologisk betinget og evolusjonsbasert. Atferden omfatter både signaler, som smil og gråt, og bevegelser som øker sannsynligheten for fysisk nærhet til tilknytningspersonen."
(Attachment is a behavioral system; it is biologically conditioned and evolution-based. The behaviour comprises both signals, such as smiling and crying, and movements which increase the probability of physical closeness to the attachment person.)

No, attachment is hardly a behavioral system, and it is not something which is 'made' through behaviour, arbitrarily and without any particular foundation. It consists of the emotional bonds between individuals who know and feel that they belong together, bonds which do not mechanically manifest themselves through certain types of behaviour. Smith's belief in being able to conclude without fault about attachment – the feeling of belonging, of longing, of love – by
ignoring feelings and observing behaviour (cf my remark above concerning interpretation of 'signs'), is a dangerous, wrong track in psychology and child protection. It is clearly a sign of behavioristic thinking: the belief that studies of behaviour leads to scientifically accurate knowledge about individuals (cf again How Norwegian experts came to reject biological kinship as relevant in child welfare policy).


Is attachment theory among the very best supported in developmental psychology? More's the pity, to put it that way. What does it lead to? – It should suffice to take the central place of attachment theory in Barnevernet seriously, and to study the results of Barnevern practice.



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Some articles relating to the concept of 'attachment':


Marianne Haslev Skånland:
On attachment, eye contact and interaction

 –  How Norwegian experts came to reject biological kinship as relevant in child welfare policy

 –  
Is biological kinship irrelevant for the life of human beings?

 –  The Child Protection Service (CPS) – unfortunately the cause of grievous harm
2: Contant, dimensions, causes and mechanisms of CPS activities
(The section 'Attachment theory and other ideas')

 –  
Sterkt knyttet til moren etter barnevernets lange adskillelse
Fallitt for barneverns-psykologiens 'tilknytnings'fantasier

(Strongly attached to her mother after the long separation caused by Barnevernet
Failure of the child protection psychology's 'attachment' fantasies)


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Some professional child experts
27 august 2018 –
  


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