February 2005 / 25 January 2014

Foster-children as lucrative business

By Siv Westerberg, lawyer and med.lic

The article was originally published in German, in the newspaper Die Zeit, Hamburg, on 14 July 1995, as Pflegschaft der Abkassierer.

3 versions, in German, English and Norwegian, have been published on NKMR's website, but the links have not functioned the last two years, after NKMR started changing their website.

The Norwegian version was published
on BarnasRett in february of 2005 and on Forum Redd Våre Barn 9 June 2006. It has also appeared elsewhere.

The German version is also published on this website.

The translations from German into Norwegian and English were made by me. The article is published here with the author's kind consent.

Oslo 25 January 2014
Marianne Haslev Skånland


Heinz Stombrowski was born in Simken in East Prussia. The Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries during the second world war caused the family to be driven out and they came to Germany as refugees. In 1951, at the age of 16, Heinz was offered a job as a lumber jack in Sweden together with his father. The two were dependable and hard-working and were soon able to bring the rest of the family over to join them in Sweden. As an adult Heinz founded his own family together with a Swedish girl and they acquired a small-holding in the district of Värmland. Their house was small, with no modern amenities except cold running water. Nevertheless, for the four children it was a wonderful place, an idyll out of a children's book by Astrid Lindgren.

It was not to last. Like other small-holders, Heinz Stombrowski held another job in addition to working on his farm in order to make ends meet. When his employer went bankrupt, Heinz was out of work and had to apply for economic assistance from welfare. This led the social services office to pounce on him. The social workers found fault with the family. They considered that the children, who ran around happily in the stables and outside in the fields and forests, were dirty; the bed-linen was not changed often enough, and the children were late in developing language skills. (This latter phenomenon can be observed in the families of many bilingual marriages, be they academics or farmers. Children regularly catch up later, without any form of special teaching or help. The advantage later in life of having learnt two languages early in childhood is of course great. Furthermore, monolingual children, too, vary a great deal in the way they acquire their mother tongue and the speed with which this takes place.)

The social services made use of these deficiencies of the Stombrowski home to take the children away from their parents and share them out among different foster families. The eldest daughter, 16 years of age at the time, was alone in not being forcibly taken into care. She is the only one of the Stombrowskis' children to lead a normal life today. The younger three were 10, 6 and 3 years old when they were taken. Ten years later they are still with foster parents. They have attended nothing but schools for retarded children. The foster parents have scant motivation for making any change: the more "retarded" a child can be claimed to be, the greater the financial compensation received by the foster parents from the social services.

One of the Stombrowski daughters was at 13 forced to have sexual intercourse with her foster-father - a crime which this man has never been put on trial for or even charged with. The son, now 13 years old, has several times stated his intention of committing suicide. For two years he was placed in the hands of foster-parents with a great aptitude for financial gain. During the same period they had in their care seven boys with serious mental disturbances, although the foster-parents had absolutely no education or training relevant to such a task. From the social services they received 1500 Swedish Crowns (approx. £150) per day per child for the job. This brought in a total of more than £ 30.000 per month for this couple.

We ask ourselves: Is it possible for this to have taken place and still be going on in the welfare state of Sweden? As the Stombrowski family's lawyer for the last two years I have to confirm that yes, it really is. Worse still: The Stombrowski case is no isolated instance. Before qualifying in law I practised as a medical doctor for twenty years. As a result, a number of cases of a sociomedical character now find their way to my legal practice in Gothenburg, among them several in which the social services, on no valid grounds whatsoever, take children out of the care of their parents and place them with totally unacceptable foster-parents.

At present there are in Sweden some 5000 children who have been forcibly removed from their parents' care. In no more than 10% of these cases there are readily understandable and acceptable reasons for this, such as alcohol or drug addiction on the part of the parents. In all the others, the social services have sought, and quickly found, pretexts when parents have come into some kind of conflict with the social worker concerned.

All through the ages there have been children who have been placed in the care of foster-parents. As late as in the 1930s and 40s this still happened quite frequently in Sweden when the biological parents were simply too poor to be able to feed them. Many children born out of wedlock, too, were given to foster-parents due to the considerable prejudices of society towards unmarried mothers. Most foster-parents used to be people who genuinely wanted to help a child in need. The remuneration which they received for their care was very modest.

The situation changed in the 50s. The general standard of living got better and prejudices against unwed mothers were on the wane. Therefore, to leave children in the hands of foster-parents was no longer an obvious necessity. As a consequence, the jobs of many social workers were no longer secure. However, just in this period Swedish authorities concocted a "vision" of a Swedish state, a state which would mind and manage its citizens from the cradle to the grave. This suited social workers, of course, as it secured a continued and increased demand for people of their profession.

Strong family ties, however, in which family members influence each other's lives and help each other, were an obstacle to having such "dreams" put into practice. Therefore a law was passed which empowered - and still continues to empower - social workers to break into practically any family, even with the aid of the police, and decide forcibly to take over the care of the family's children. Furthermore, another law was passed authorising "prohibition against removal" from the foster-home. This means that even if parents should after years of litigation succeed in having the original decision depriving them of the right to care for their children revoked, the social authorities can nevertheless prevent the children from going home. In theory, the reason for this law is a good one: a child who has been with foster-parents for years is given a couple of months to readjust to life with its biological parents. In practice, though, the social services use the law to the opposite end, they regularly issue prohibitions on removal that last many years and thus sabotage all contact between parents and children.

In actual fact, no legal control over any of this set of procedures exists in Sweden. Forced transfer of care to the social services' authority falls under the jurisdiction of an administrative court. It works in such a cumbersome and bureaucratic manner that it functions as an extension of the social services.

In this manner the profession of social worker becomes attractive to people with a lust for power, people who simply enjoy themselves when they take children away from parents who deviate, be it ever so trivially, from the state controlled ideas of development and upbringing, as for instance if the house is not tidy or if the child has played hookey from school.

To obtain a sufficient number of foster-parents, the social services pay for care at fantastic rates. A healthy child will bring the foster-parents between £500 and £1000 per month, in large part tax-free. One must also bear in mind that foster-parents frequently take four or five foster-children at the same time. A handicapped foster-child is paid for at several times the going rate.

Where such sums of money are advertised, takers will be many. A number of applicants for being a foster-parent have or have had problems with alcohol or have a previous record of criminal convictions, but this in no way stops the social services from engaging them as foster-parents. While every detail of the lives, opinions and backgrounds of the biological parents is scrutinised with marked suspicion, foster-parents are, curiously enough, hardly checked out at all.

The system could not function if the children were in frequent contact with their parents. Therefore the parents' visiting rights are restricted very severely. Ordinarily, they are only allowed to see their children once every three months, for a couple of hours and under the eyes of the foster-parents. The social services can also prevent the parents from having any contact at all with their children. In their decisions on prohibition against visits the social services are regularly backed up by opinions solicited from child psychiatrists who are only too eager to write such assessments as requested by the social services, which are practically their only source of work. This unholy alliance between power-ridden social workers, avaricious foster-parents, and child psychiatrists dependent on the social services, has brought endless suffering on many families in Sweden. I have brought the cases of many of them to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, including the Stombrowski family's case. In the Court of Human Rights, Sweden has several times been found guilty of its violations of human rights in connection with its forcible transfer of the care of children. The Swedish authorities have learnt nothing from these proceedings. They have not even always complied with the decisions of the Court of Human Rights. As it stands today, Sweden still has no constitutional court to which such legislation and such conditions as those described above can be appealed and by which they can be tried.

Nor, unfortunately, is Sweden any longer alone. Over the last couple of years I have observed the development of public child care in Norway and conferred with concerned people there. The situation seems to have become exactly what it is in Sweden, that is a catastrophe for children and parents exposed to the attention of the social "services". The background, the course taken, and the techniques used by social welfare personnel, are all exactly the same. Norway seems to have begun to slide into this state of affairs later than Sweden; now, however, Norway has apparently at great speed arrived at the same destructive and lawless conditions for children and their families.