27 September 2015
A system that wears people down
– UDI director Frode Forfang should not only look at the Child Welfare Services. He should examine his own system as well.
Bjorn Bjoro (Bjørn Bjøro) is a consultant, previously in the employ of the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS).
A previous version of this article was published in Norwegian, with the title "Et system som stresser" (A system which creates stress) in the newspaper Vårt Land on 13th June 2015 and on the same day. It appeared in the context of a debate regarding the treatment in Norway of some mothers and children from other countries who apply for asylum.
This English version of the article is published here with the kind consent of the author.
The head of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, Mr Frode Forfang, has not responded to the article from June (cf the last paragraph below), nor has anything in the workings of the system been changed.
Some institutional names and abbreviations are well-known in Norwegian society but need a brief explanation for foreign readers:
The Child Welfare Services (CWS) is the official English title of the Norwegian government service handling child protection (). The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) is organised under the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. UNE is the Immigration Appeals Board.
(Official websites: , , ).
In an article in the newspaper Vårt Land on 3 June 2015, the director of the UDI Frode Forfang recommends that the municipalities be relieved of their responsibility for asylum seekers, this to be transferred to the state. This is sensible but it is not enough.
It will take away the power which the municipalities make use of today in order to stop inquiry into the care possibilities in the extended family in the countries from which the asylum seekers come. The backdrop lies in a diplomatic crisis with, among other countries, Nigeria, which refuses to issue travel documents when the UDI and UNE want to expel from Norway mothers who still have parental responsibility for, and visitation rights to, children who are under the care of the CWS in Norway. UNE admits that this will cut off nearly all contact with the children, who are culturally whitewashed in Norwegian foster homes. The children are prepared for later forced adoption.
In addition, the UDI and its director Mr Forfang take care to reduce the possibility these mothers have of caring for their children here, in that the mothers are only to have money for food, the amount set right down to the level of NOK 1,590 per month. They are not to buy clothes. They are not allowed money to call a lawyer or helpers to support them. They are not allowed money for travel to meet their lawyer. The UDI director knows this, because the organisation African Cultural Awareness (ACA) sent a letter to the Minister of Justice Mr Anders Anundsen, who had the UDI furnish an answer.
The UDI gave the Minister of Justice incorrect information but knew better, when UDI denied that the Norwegian authorities in affairs concerning foreigners in Norway have tried, through passing decisions, to prevent the mothers from following their case against the CWS and later through the court system. In a new letter to the Minister of Justice, the ACA has documented the concrete attempts of our authorities to do so.
The attacks by the UDI/UNE on mothers with scant resources are in violation of established human rights. The mothers do not have the means of having the decisions of UNE corrected by bringing their case before the courts. Having gone through the case documents in some large scale cases, I hold that particularly the committee heads of UNE exploit the fact that a mother facing Norwegian prices with as little as NOK 1,590 a month is not able to pay a lawyer to take the case to court. Free legal aid does not exist in these cases.
In one of the cases I have, after going through the total set of documents in the case, written a 43 pages long summary and analysis for the use of the mother's lawyer and others.
The short version is that a good mother was being systematically stressed by the UDI/UNE. They also continued, in spite of a written warning about the consequences. They therefore managed to produce a child protection case. The Child Welfare Services (CWS) did not use a cultural bridge-builder, who would have been able to explain and lessen the conflict. Nor did the CWS confront the UDI/UNE when these latter agencies caused damage. After some time the CWS took the child into care by force, with the use of police and transport by car and ferry of the mother to a psychiatric hospital. The hospital, however, found no reason to keep her there.
Visitation mother - child
Since the mother was helped by the organisation African Cultural Awareness (ACA), involving cultural bridge-building, the mother's visits with her daughter have been very positive. The CWS admit this. But the CWS offend against the law of child protection as well as the Public Administration Act by refusing to obtain information about the conditons in the mother's family in Nigeria. When she left, their circumstances were extremely difficult and seemed hopeless. But during the several years that have followed, her family back home has actually managed to improve their lot and now have a dependable and good life. A brother of the mother lives there and has a family, room in his heart and room in his large, new house. He wants to include mother and daughter in his own family, and see to it that the daughter is educated in a private school.
In accordance with the mother's wishes, and supported by her lawyer, ACA and myself, the police contacted the CWS. They totally refused any inquiry whatsoever. Earlier, the CWS had refused to check anything when another brother of the mother who now lives in Canada contacted them and offered to take over custody. This brother has a house and a full family, is a religious minister and a social worker, and has a good and stable income. The conduct of the CWS is appealed to the County Governor (Fylkesmannen), and there will be an investigation against the CWS.
The contribution of the UDI/UNE has been to demand that the mother should be sent out of the country, that she is not to take part in the ongoing process and that she is to be stressed and worn down as before by receiving money only for food.
UDI director Frode Forfang should not only direct his attention to the Child Welfare Services. He should examine his own system as well. Will you, Mr Forfang, as an immediate measure see to it that these mothers are granted the same possibilities that other asylum seekers have, or will you continue to inflict pain on them?