19 March 2015

The hidden motive for wanting municipality mergers and larger child protection units

By Marianne Haslev Skånland

Most of the arguments presented by our Norwegian authorities for municipality mergers are of a rational, often economic kind. Now that modern communications have radically shortened travel time, it is no longer necessary to have all administrative services as close by as it was when a major effort was needed to make a journey of some miles.

But one argument in the continued propaganda in favour of merging municipalities does not hold water: With larger municipalities the population will allegedly have a better, a more professional child protection service (CPS). The child protection unit in small municipalities, it is claimed, is too small to be able to 'offer their users' professional services.

Formulations like these are of the same kind as another propaganda drive we often see, the one claiming that so many children are stuck in a queue waiting for 'help' in the shape of foster homes. The real situation regarding this is that a considerable number of children live under heavy strain because they
fear that they will be deprived of their parents and family.

It has already been put into practice

Back to the announced advantages of larger CPS units said to come with larger municipalities: Many municipalities have already practiced something of the kind for several years – they cooperate in child protection cases across municipal borders.

Such cooperation is always portrayed by the authorities as positive: larger professional milieus, therefore higher qualifications, better services, increased efficiency, better economic results. If there is trouble with protests against the CPS in some municipality, it sometimes happens that the central authorities try to calm the criticism down by offering temptation to the local community, saying that if they just drop their protests, they will 'get' inter-municipal CPS cooperation and added psychological services at their disposal. This kind of 'tempting promise' was apparently tried by Hordaland County to Samnanger municipality when people there took to the streets in a large demonstration with torches and posters against the CPS having forcibly taken two children (some photos from the demo
here and here).

A motive different from improvement

But an important truth often slips out. CPS employees say it themselves, and it is naïvely repeated by others – such as the press – probably because they take this motive to be both legitimate and decent:

It is so difficult and unpleasant for child protection workers and their helpers to 'interfere' against families in little, local communities where everybody knows everybody and everybody knows them.

Therefore, they use the cooperating municipalities' CPS workers, who live and work far away, when removals of children from home are carried out. In this way the social workers who effect the deportations can remain anonymous and protected from a shocked and appalled local community. Such deportations are often very upsetting, so social workers make sure that they are several colleagues together, and they bring a number of police officers with them to take by force children who are desperate and who scream and fight against being taken from their parents. There have been cases in which policemen have 'had to have psycho-therapy' (read as: psychological sweet-talk assuring them that yes yes, what they did was quite right, although it was unpleasant) after having taken part in such forcible child deportations.

And we can read it – once more – quite openly, this time from cabinet minister Solveig Horne, the minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion,
(in an article in VG from 19 March 2015 about added responsibilities and tasks for municipalities):

"Horne viser til at 100 norske kommuner har tre eller færre ansatte i barnevernet. I små samfunn er det vanskeligere å gripe inn, derfor har mange kommuner allerede samlet barnevernstjenestene med nabokommunene. Etter hvert vil de også få ansvaret for fosterhjem og institusjoner."
("Horne points to 100 Norwegian municipalities having a maximum of three employees in the CPS. In small communities it is more difficult to take action, which is why many municipalities have already joined their child protection services with neighbouring municipalities. By and by they will also be given the responsibility for foster homes and institutions."
Translation by MHS)


In the title of this article I have characterised this motive as hidden. It will be clear, however, that it really isn't hidden, although it is often hidden away better than by Solveig Horne. What is more covert is perhaps how strong this motive is, although CPS workers and their helpers quite often make it fairly clear. Larger CPS units will not mean that they will stop the horrible forcible deportations they are engaged in already. They will continue in just the same way, and with added staff and power and prestige will be less troubled by protests and attempts to escape.

Bureaucrats in local administration and politicians want peace and quiet, no upset around CPS actions. This they hope to get through making each CPS unit larger and more powerful and the employees correspondingly more anonymous. With such a development, it will be increasingly more difficult for affected families and for a frightened, uncertain and ignorant community to stand up effectively against what takes place.

It is hidden behind the advertisement portraying it as a
better child protection service. Unfortunately that is a fantasy.

Probably it will be best to leave off hoping that administrative reorganisation will put right that which is wrong in today's child protection. Experience has shown that such reorganisings rarely do. Not too infrequently they make matters worse. People exhaust their energy to no use searching for possible improvements of a purely formal kind.