4 December 2015
Had to sit in the audience
The Norwegian original of this article was published on 3 December 2015, and was republished and on the same date.
This English edition is published with the author's kind permission.
Translation: Marianne Haslev Skånland
Gro Hillestad Thune was a member of the European Commission of Human Rights for 16 years. She has an internationally well-known name as Norway's foremost expert on human rights. Earlier this year she took the initiative to send a letter of concern about Norwegian child protection (barnevernet) to cabinet minister Solveig Horne. But when the minister on Tuesday 1 December had gathered people interested in child protection for a seminar to discuss how our child protection services (CPS) can achieve a standing of better confidence among people, she had to sit in the audience and was hardly given leave to say a word.
Because the seminar which was supposed to throw a critical spotlight on the CPS to help the minister improving it, was dominated by the CPS's own people, official bureaucrats within the system, and the union representatives of various groups of CPS employees. The child protection workers in Akademikerforbundet (union of academics), the professional board of social workers, the association of expert psychologists, and Norsk Organisasjon for Barnevernledere (the Norwegian organisation of CPS heads), were all given their allotted time to speak, while Norway's leading expert on human rights and one of the country's sharpest critics of the CPS, who is an international authority in her field and a speaker much sought after, sat in the audience and attempted to be given the word for a short question. She had not been invited to contribute a talk to the seminar.
Of the 16 speakers there were only three who took a reasonably critical position to a CPS which has been heavily criticised for abuse against parents and children and which has drawn negative international attention, attention in the form of criticism of the CPS taking children from their parents not only when these have failed to care for the children but usually on the basis of some subjective assessment by CPS bureaucrats that the parents "are lacking in ability to care". This problem was hardly touched on during the seminar, where the discussion was only a ripple on the surface: "We should perhaps consider longer education", "Better proficiency is needed", "We must bring forward the good cases", etc.
For the many who hold that the Norwegian child protection services do not take sufficient care to hold families together with various forms of support, but who all too often place children elsewhere, destroy families unnecessarily, and drive parents to suicide and drug addiction, a small ray of light might perhaps be that the minister herself was among the most critical and in her introductory speech emphasised the need for change. But whether such changes will be great enough, when she is surrounded by defenders of the system, is an open question.
Among other things, cabinet minister Solveig Horne asked: "If we take the children away from their parents, are we then certain that we can take any better care of the children?" To (her party's website) she also said: "I am concerned to direct stronger effort towards preventive measures and family protection. In most cases by far, children can live at home with enough support and follow-up. And we know that in the cases where transfer of care is necessary, the children do best if they can live in their extended family or in the family's network."