2 May 2019

Johannes Idsø, associate professor:

Low threshold for intervention from the CPS Barnevernet?
 – Reply to municipal director Krakhellen's article

• • •
The Norwegian version of this article appeared in the local newspaper Sogn Avis on 12 March 2019, as a reply to municipal director Krakhellen's debate contribution on 9 March 2019. The debate arose out of Johannes Idsø's article
Child welfare and the abuse of power (cf (2) below), published some days earlier.

Johannes Idsø works in the
Department of Business Administration at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (Høgskulen på Vestlandet), location Sogndal.

The publication of an English translation here is done with the author's generous permission.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland
• • •

My article in Sogn Avis on 5 March 2019 received a response, also in Sogn Avis, by municipal director Ole Gunnar Krakhellen in Sogndal Municipality, on 9 March. My reply is as follows:

In my first article, I stated:
"It is not hard to imagine that consultants of these types of companies have a private financial motivation for maintaining extensive involvement with Child Welfare Services and for that reason choose to investigate issues that should have been dropped."

This is no speculation on my part but is based on well-known economic theory. In the discipline of community economics there is a special component called 'principal-agent theory', which discusses such problems. The main point in this theory is that when an informational asymmetry exists between two contracting parties, then the informed party can use of his superior information to his advantage. Suppose that a private company has been hired by the municipality (the authority of Barnevernet) to handle a received message of concern. The carrying out of this task implies a series of discretionary assessments.

What does the municipality have in the way of a guarantee that the private company does not streth the law and, on the basis of a 'comprehensive assessment', suggest unnecessary measures so that the company's engagement will be extended?

With the influx of private participants into Barnevernet's work, the public authorities must put in place other mechanisms of control than those now in existence. The County Governor (Fylkesmannen) is mandated to monitor Barnevernet. But how many times has a County Governor on his own initiative investigated the content of a Barnevern case and considered whether the decisions made are according to law?


I welcome Krakhellen's reference to the law for health personnel §33; this brings us to the heart of the matter. This paragraph obliges health personnel to report to Barnevernet in cases concerning serious care failure. The law lists the types: abuse, serious illness, repeated criminal conduct, substance/alcohol abuse, or when the child is subject to human trafficking.

§33 is exhaustive: Only in such cases delineated by the law does health personnel not have a duty of confidentiality but may report to Barnevernet.

Krakhellen refers to the national expert guidelines, which say that "The threshold for reporting to Barnevernet is to be a low one".

We have consulted jurist Bente Ohnstad in this case (cf
(1)). She headed the committee which wrote the proposal for the law for health personnel and has written a series of legal textbooks. Ohnstad is therefore one of Norway's most respected jurists.

Krakhellen's argumentation on this point is identical to the argument of the health nurse writing the message of concern. About this, Ohnstad said:

    "It is made clear from the guidelines of the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision what is meant by 'a low threshold': Reason to believe, but not a demand for sure knowledge. It is, in other words, the threshold of proof which is low when health personnel reports on the basis of a suspected serious care failure. The health nurse, on the other hand, seems to have the attitude that it is the seriousness of the situation which is meant to be low, that is: that it takes little to define something as serious care failure. This conflicts with the law-giver's intention.
    The duty to send a message of concern it still limited to cases in which there is reason to believe that the child is severely damaged, the situation being so untenable that the conditions for taking into care may be met. There have to be objective and testable reasons to believe that the child may be in such a situation.
    Furthermore, health personnel cannot sende a message of concern to Barnevernet with the intention to make Barnevernet consider whether the matters one reports should be considered as serious care failure."

If health personnel in Sogndal interprets 'low threshold' to mean that they can send messages of concern about all manner of details, then the municipality should quickly send their personnel to a course in order to improve their competence. It will probably improve the municipal finances and prevent families from being exposed to Kafka processes similar to what was done to the mother in this case.


Bente Ohnstad:
Strict conditions for sending notices of concern to the CPS Barnevernet
MHS's home page, 2 May 2019

Johannes Idsø:
Child welfare and the abuse of power
MHS's home page, 19 March 2019