I’m not opposed to The Child Welfare Service (CWS), because there are situations where parents and children need help. It is not a question of if, but how and when the CWS should help. The way it works today, there is a good chance that the parents will lose their children if they ask for help. This is especially true if you are conspicuous. I have previously written about the fact that some of those working in CWS do not accept other than an A4 family in Trouble in Paradise 2. I also mentioned that poverty makes a family vulnerable to CWS in A ruined childhood and State Sponsored Child trafficking in Norway. Families from minority groups are particularly vulnerable because they are likely to be both outside A-4 format and they often have low income.
This is an old problem that was documented when the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion commissioned a report by Statistics Norway in 2009. The report shows how the contact with the child welfare varies with immigrant backgrounds. There are three groups of children and adolescents (0-22 years) that have been compared: 1) Children with immigrant background, 2) immigrant children and 3) Norwegian-born children of immigrant parents.
Here are some numbers from the report:
There were 1,426,300 children and adolescents aged 0-22 years in Norway as of 01.01.2010. Immigrants and Norwegians born to immigrant parents accounted for 11 percent of these, and the two groups were of about equal size. There were 82,100 Norwegian-born children of immigrant parents, while there were 76,800 immigrant children.
There were 46 487 children who received child-welfare services in 2009. The proportion of immigrant and Norwegian-born children of immigrant parents rose from 16 percent of all children receiving assistance in 2004 to 21 percent in 2009.
Eight out of ten children who were placed in care at the end of 2009, didn’t have immigrant background, but there were 2.6 times as many immigrant children in relation to the child population, compared to children with no immigrant background
Foster homes are the most common place to relocate children when they are removed from their parents, regardless of immigrant background. Seven out of ten children with placement measures by the end of 2009 were in foster care. Of the 6,600 children and young people in care at the end of 2009, 89 percent were of non-immigrant background, 6 percent immigrants and 5 percent Norwegian-born to immigrant parents. In relation to the child population, on the other hand, there were more immigrant children in care, and least Norwegian-born children of immigrant parents.
There were 31 731 children without immigrant background receiving services from Child Welfare in 2004, and it had increased to 36,878 children in 2009. However, this still meant an overall decrease from 84 to 79%, because while the number of children with no immigrant background increased by only 16% from 2004 to 2009, the corresponding increase for immigrant children was above 60 percent.
The proportion of children under 16 years with immigrant background in Oslo is 31%, but 54% of all children in care in the capital have an immigrant background.
These figures show that there has been a large increase in immigrants’ contact with Child Welfare. It is said that one of the reasons is that it is common in other cultures to beat the children, which is illegal in Norway. I would argue that this follows a pattern for Norwegian authorities that at best can be described as weakness. We see it in psychiatry also that the authorities fail to treat immigrants who are mentally ill, or who have experienced incredibly traumatic things in their home countries. As a consequence we see mentally ill immigrants commit crimes, including murder. If there is a problem that parents from other cultures hit their children, the authorities must do a better job to teach them that this isn’t allowed and what the consequences might be. Just as it is not fair to assume that immigrants will automatically select the Norwegian way of life, it is not right to assume that they automatically understand Norwegian child rearing.
I have previously mentioned that the CWS in many cases takes children for no reason. I wrote about that in relation to the A-4 family. The CWS often react to conspicuous families; because that’s something you just don’t do in Norway. You don’t stand out from the crowd. In Norway we sleep in beds; everything else is both unnatural and harmful. Of course it isn’t, but one would think it given the way CWS reacts sometimes. The Tamil immigrant, Magathmajothy Selladurai experienced losing custody of his three children over one such ridiculous and racist assumption. When he was interviewed by an online news site, he pointed out that the CWS lacks understanding of the traditions and norms of other cultures. The CWS reacted negatively to his children sleeping on mats, and not in beds. An Indian couple living in Norway lost custody partly because they ate with their hands, slept in the same bed as their children and didn’t have enough toys at home. Sleeping in the same bed can be problematic, but that is a situation where the government can use other resources than foster family.
Another thing is that foster care, especially when we are talking about young children, often means that children do not learn the language and culture of their parents. There is a general problem that the Child Welfare Service takes too long, and even if there never was any basis for removing the child, it may take several years to get the child back.
I have also written about the fact that poverty makes families vulnerable to attacks from child protection people. Immigrants are heavily represented among low-income families and child welfare assumes that this makes children vulnerable. Instead of helping the family, placing the children in foster care and providing foster parents with substantial financial support, is the first and only option in many cases.
An article from Bergens Tidende shows that many African mothers live in fear of Child Welfare in the city of Bergen. Several of them have lost their children without understanding why. It is not only because of violence, but justifications like lack of clothing, being late to school, there is a lack of visible love for the children etc. have been made. I’m not going to divulge details from my years as a teacher, but there is no doubt that I have seen quite aggravating circumstances in Norwegian families. None of those children were removed from their homes, but they were instead offered other forms of support, although in some of those cases it might have been better a measure to put the kids in a foster home.
Fatmata Sia Alpha is an immigrant from Sierra Leone. Her son said in kindergarten that his mother struck him in African, but he had no marks on the skin. Fatmata has always denied the allegations, and has received support from the general practitioner, family and neighbors. Before this happened, she had applied for support measures for her son because she believed he was playing alone a lot, and she needed help to energize him. The CWS said she was doing fine, and turned down her application. They later changed opinion and then stated that she didn’t show enough empathy for her son through facial expressions and body language. I’m not going to break my confidentiality as a teacher, but I have seen serious family conflicts that have harmed the children in white Norwegian families. The CWS has nevertheless offered alternatives to foster care.
The Nigerian newspaper Vanguard is one of many international media outlets that have given Norway deserved bad press for the practice of state kidnapping. I have previously referred to it as a child trafficking. The newspaper wrote about John Blessing and Emma Mansaray who lived in Drammen. When their child was five months old mother and daughter were placed in a mother-child home. They were told that they would be there for a month, and the intention was that the mother was going to prove that she could take care of the child. According to John they were there for three months without CWS having found anything disturbing. They still lost their child.
Vanguard also refers to some other cases where the Norwegian government has been accused of kidnapping, including an Indian child and two Turkish children. This is incidentally a thorough article and the journalist has quoted Norwegian law.
There is a reason why many don’t trust the child protection. This applies not only to minority communities, because the CWS breaks the law in relation to Norwegian families too. It almost seems like they assume that parents are evil people who only want to hurt their children. If they get the tiniest hint that there are problems, they often choose confrontation without hesitation. Therefore, we have seen many cases where the police retrieve the children, often late at night. There have been cases where child protection snatched the children at school or kindergarten without notifying the parents. Sometimes this is based on a rumor or speculation by employees in health care, and sometimes children say something they don’t understand the consequences of. The TV-network NRK has documented psychologists “interrogating” the children where they tell the children that something has happened, and that the child will not be able to leave until they have told what was done to them. That can result in interrogation lasting several hours, and the information is unreliable. These are methods we expect from Guantanamo Bay, but not from those who are supposed to help Norwegian children. The information they receive is just as uncertain in both cases.
The blogger barnefjern.org has written about it. This entry is in Norwegian, but you might pick up on how the psychologist is manipulating the 6 year old girl in the video. The interview lasted for four hours and during this time the girl said 22 times that nothing had happened. At the end she decided to lie as the psychologist made it clear that she couldn’t leave before she told her what she wanted to hear.
I think this is especially serious when we use these tactics against immigrants and children of immigrants. Norwegian authorities assume or count on immigrants to choose to become Norwegian within a generation or two. This has been the Norwegian position since we started inviting immigrants to settle in Norway.
If Norwegian authorities continue with this practice in Child Welfare, one wonders if they are motivated to change a system one can not help but describe as evil. This is an opportunity to acquire Norwegian and immigrant children for Norwegian families to adopt. This is known in other countries as well, and in English it’s referred to as “an adoption driven system.”
Patricia Fronek is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work in the School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University. She is also a member of the Australian College of Social Workers and the President of the Australian and New Zealand Social Work and Welfare Education and Research (ANZSWWER) She recently wrote about a meeting with British counterparts, describing such a system in England. In that case, foster parents were given an ultimatum, we take your fosterchild if you do not adopt.
There are not many children available for adoption in Norway. Maybe we are moving towards a system where Norwegians can adopt in Norway, thus not having to travel abroad?
http://www.ssb.no/a/publikasjoner/pdf/rapp_201139/rapp_201139.pdf (this is the report from Statistics Norway. It’s in Norwegian, but page 5 is an abstract in English)