I have previously written about our meeting with child welfare and healthcare professionals, and the fact that they are encouraged not to keep their word in the municipality we live in, Meløy. The issue was resolved finally in May, but we have also lost a lot of valuable time and resources.
None of the people involved understood our concerns. They thought we should have shown some gratitude for being reported to The Child Welfare Service because they only want to help. That’s the message they like to present at least. The truth is that our girl is dependent on her parents fighting for her. We were in the middle of a battle to get help when this happened. The autism team at the hospital didn’t even want to evaluate the girl, and they told us to get help from a local team in our own community. We’re still working on getting this local help.
One of our fears was that that everyone would conclude that the girl didn’t have any challenges. It was all caused by the mothers overprotectiveness, although The Children’s and Young People’s Psychiatric Out-Patient Clinic (knows as BUP in Norway) had examined the girl and given her several diagnoses. That could have been the consequence of the Child Welfare assistance. What would have helped us would have been a relief in the form of occupational therapy or a decent kulturskole (community school for performing and visual arts), but the municipality won’t give us that (all municipalities offer kulturskole classes in the evening).
This got me thinking: How is The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (knows as Bufetat) actually doing? Is it correct that all parents should be grateful when the police knocks on the door and takes the kids? Is it right that removing the children should be the first and only option? These were some of the questions I had before I started doing some research.
One of the first articles I read was a case in the newspaper VG. The article was from March 2013, and was on an audit the Health Authority had conducted of the Child Welfare Service over a two year period. The investigation showed that 9 out of 10 child welfare offices broke the law, and that 40% of those who had deviations from 2011 still had not corrected them.
There is a lot of evidence to say that children are not being heard, but foster parents aren’t either. There are some who do care about the children, but they seem to be getting fewer. According to a study from the Norwegian Institute of Research on Adolescence, Social Research (NOVA), only 9 % of the executive officers and managers in child welfare thinks that siblings should stay together. Among foster parents the number is higher, 25 %. I am not impressed by either of these two parties, and the fact is that 6 out of 10 siblings are placed in different families. This is one of the reasons why foster parents shouldn’t be the first choice, but it is often. There are other options, but they are rarely used. They want to break up families.
According to ABCnyheter (an online news site) international studies show that siblings who have grown up in the same foster family have fewer emotional and behavioral problems as adults than siblings who have been split. There are no rules for how far apart the authorities can move siblings. That also applies to parents. A stay with foster parents should in principle not be prolonged. The children’s parents should be allowed to straighten out what Bufetat claim is a problem.
Bufetat lists several reasons why it is necessary to take the kids. They say that there is rarely only one reason why parents are unable to give their children good enough care, and among them are too little education, insecure jobs and poor economy.
This doesn’t sound promising. When we were reported to the child welfare we knew that they were not going to find anything to worry about. Our daughter has two parents who understand the necessity of early educational and occupational therapeutic measures, and we are also able to carry out these very well documented measures and have been fighting from the start to see to it she received them. The fact that they are documented makes them far more than theories. We also have very strong evidence from various agencies in the health care system that the girl is healthy. The problem is that the Child Welfare Service doesn’t have to document their claims. We understood that there was no point in fighting them, so we proposed a collaboration.
As previously mentioned, we tried to get some support. The municipality agreed with us that occupational therapy and horseback riding would have been excellent measures for our daughter, but they will not pay for this. We have also suggested a support family, a family our girl could spend an afternoon a week with. We were told that this was not realistic, although this is one the options they say they offer. We have arranged it on our own, because our daughter has friends. They are invited to our house, and they invite her back. It gives us a little break, and the girl good social training.
These are a few simple measures that local authorities could have used more, but it’s not happening. Sometimes a small financial support would be enough, and sometimes a support family is adequate. For our part, it would have helped with for example horseback riding or ballet, which the municipality does not offer. Foster care seems to be the only option Child Welfare will consider even if other solutions are easier, cheaper, and less traumatizing to the child. I find it disturbing that the Minister of Children and Family Affairs, Solveig Horne, wants to give foster parents more influence.
I came across a study from 2005 where foster parents were asked a series of questions. I will refer to some tables from this study.
Table 16 How long has the child been in the foster family.
64% answered more than three years. This shows that it hasn’t been used as a short term solution with the intention of returning the children to their own family.
Table 19 How long was it planned for the child to be in foster home?
72% said the child would grow up in the foster family, which meant it would not return to its family. An additional 3% felt that the plan was five years. This seems to have been a permanent solution from the start.
Table 20 Foster parents opinion on where the child is now going to grow up
89% of foster parents said the child would grow up with them, and only 5% thought they would come home to their parents.
Table 78 About whether the foster parents had considered adopting the foster child or not.
78% said they had not considered adoption, and among the remaining there were only 10% that had considered it seriously.
Different people will possibly read different things out of this, but I wonder what has caused many foster parents to regard the arrangement as permanent, and at the same time not considering adoption. I think it has a lot to do with money. As foster parents they get considerable funds, but these disappear if they adopt the child.
I think it is quite clear that there is a lot of money changing hands. The TV-station NRK ran a story in 2010 that focused on just that. The government denied the allegations, but I have looked at the information on the Child Welfare Service website. They have some examples to show how it works. In example 1, the mother resigns from her job as a nurse, while her husband works. She gets 400,000 NOK (about $67,000) a year per foster child which she must pay taxes for, and as she gets pension points (more pension points mean highter retirement benefits). She also gets 4 600 NOK (about $767) tax free per month. This is supposed to cover clothing and leisure activities for the foster child. They also receive the state child allowance of 980 NOK (about $163) a month. This would be a total of just over 566,000 NOK ($94.333) a year per child.
Poverty seems to be justified as a reason to remove the children, but wouldn’t it be better to help these families? The children should be helped inside their own family, unless there are some more justified reasons of course. It would probably cost much less as well. There is no doubt that biological parents do more for their children to succeed. They are willing, like my wife and I are, to hurt financially in order for the kids to have a better chance. The Child Welfare Service run courses for foster parents called PRIDE. That’s something I don’t need to learn regarding my daughter, and I don’t need someone to pay me for it either.
Furthermore, the system is set up to avoid documentation. The Ombudsman Arne Fliflet has advocated for audio and video recordings of child care cases in the county boards (this is a sort of court where the final decision to terminate parental rights is made). It’s shocking how much mess there is in the legal process and how little legal protection families have today.
I have heard about cases where parents were happy the child was removed because they couldn’t take care of it, and of children who were happy that they were taken, but it is not often so. I recently heard of a very serious case of abuse of power. In one case the court believed that the father was fit to take care of his daughter, but the child welfare authorities took no account of it. I have heard of several cases where one or both parents lost children because they were “unguidable.” That just means they disagreed with the Child Welfare Service. The newspaper Dagbladet recently wrote about a case like that. The child welfare believed they knew better than the family doctor and a specialist in neurology. They claimed the child’s diagnosis was incorrect. It was just the mother making the child sick by caring too much (aka Munchhausen-by-proxy Syndrome). The case is frighteningly similar to our own, but we were fortunate enough to be believed. I guess there’s a good number of children who never get the diagnoses they are supposed to have because the Child Welfare Service overrule the medical authorities or bring in experts that CWS itself pays to agree with them. In those cases we’ll never know whether there really was a basis for the allegations of neglect or not.
The system is straight out sick. The burden of proof should be on the Child Welfare Service to prove abuse has taken place, not on parents to prove it didn’t. There are great opportunities for individuals in the child welfare system to abuse their power, and for children to disappear into the system. Many accept their word for it when the Child Welfare Service says there is abuse. I think this is partly a question of money, and when the government is talking about giving foster parents more rights, I think it also has to do with making Norwegian children and immigrant children living in Norway, available for adoption.
The larger children are placed in group homes. There have been many violent incidents in these, and Kjetil Holt Berg is one of several owners of such institutions. He had to close down when he was reported to the police by Bufetat in 2010. He has applied Bufetat to start up again, and it is the same agency that reported him 4 years ago, that will decide whether or not to approve his new application.
Another thing is that some of the perceived problem behaviors among older foster children are a direct consequence of the system’s treatment of them. “Difficult” children are entitled to more money, and therefore some possibly has an interest in keeping the system as it is. Foster children have no rights and no voice. It’s just luck if they encounter the right people