25 January 2019

The child and family centers

The CPS Barnevernet needs law regulation

By Ragnvald Bjørgaas Petersen,
medical doctor in Sandnes, Norway and in Ethiopia

• • • •
The Norwegian version of this article was published in the medical periodical Dagens Medisin 01/2019 ('Today's Medicine') on 18 January 2019.
    It is published here with the author's generous consent.
• • • •

In Aftenposten in 2017, a professor of law found it troubling that families that are in touch with the CPS, are forced by the county boards to move into family centers. At these centers parental skills are taught, and parents are observed, filmed and evaluated. For one third of these families, the cases end up with removal of the children.

A family therapist working at one of these institutions, was interviewed by the municipalities' joint organization journal, Fontene, in October 2018: "Most do not want to be here. They know that if they do not approve, the child can be placed" and "Some need to get their fear under control before we can start to work on change. For some this can take weeks".

When families stay at family centers, it is seemingly voluntary, based on fear, for the ones where the measure has not been decided by the County Board. We see the same thing in the headline on the same subject in Dagbladet 30th of December: "The parents who come here are scared. Scared to death."

The CPS is by definition an authoritarian institution. They can give measures to help the family, but they can also make decisions on emergency care orders, or demand dissolution of the family. The duality in their mandate which is unfortunate and can cause negative dynamics in working with the families, I will not discuss further here. Nevertheless, the family centers function as part of the CPS, with the same paradoxical double-function: They are supposed to help, while at the same time considering if the child should be removed from the parents and be placed with others.

From a general perspective, trust is a must for a fruitful therapeutical relation. Teaching and observation will be of limited value, when it is performed under circumstances where the client may feel negative motivation of fear and coercion. How appropriate is it for society to decide upon the future of families, based on surveilance done in environments where the parents can feel disempowered and their whole life threatened?

High ethical awareness and respect for the autonomy of the family should be the girder of all CPS work, and will always be of benefit to the children. Even if the CPS is in need of information, this must never compromise basic norms and values.

The politicians should now evaluate the activities at the child and family centers. The laws should be revised, to make sure that all stays at these centers happen voluntarily, based on positive motivation and without the families having to make desperate choices beforehand. These institutions should cultivate the help-function, and be a service accessible to the users. Evaluations should exclusively be used as a tool for teaching of parents, and never be allowed as evidence for care orders.

If family centers can not be re-organized in this way, the authorities need to evaluate to which extent these institutions should be part of a reformed and modern CPS-system.