The biological principle: The general rule is that children should grow up with their parents.
By John Olav Ytreland and Stefan Batory
The current Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion in the Norwegian government has been through a restructuring since it was established as The Ministry of Children and Equality in 2006. The new ministry took over some tasks from other ministries, such as consumer affairs, social affairs, local government and labour, justice, environment and culture. The rationale for creating the new ministry was to strenghten their efforts for children and families, but it is unclear whether the last two or three ministers have succeeded.
Inga Marte Thorkildsen was the last Minister of Children, Equlity and Inclusion in Stoltenberg’s socialist coalition government, and after she left the post following the coalition’s defeat in the election of 2013, she published a book called You do not see it until you believe it (my translation). She made some wild claims in this book, and one of them was that ADHD is a result of being exposed to violence in childhood. This is something we are going to see, according to the author, if we think it happens. This could explain a lot, because if employees in the Child Welfare Services (CWS) go by the theory that they help children if they assume that all parents have failed, it is not surprising that we are seeing a lot of bad decions made by the CWS. The present Minister of Children, Equality and Inclusion, Solveig Horne, has been under pressure after many demonstrations against CWS, and she has decided to investigate the CWS. The problem is that she has given the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision the assignment, which has always been the agency supervising the CWS.
I am a fair, but critical reader and that seems to be especially important when dealing with documents from Solveig Horne’s ministry. The Stoltenberg goverment appointed a committee in February 2011 and they presented a report to Inga Marte Thorkildsen exactly a year later.The committee’s mandate was to examine how the biological principle was being used in CWS. The report may look quite positive at first glance, because it does acknowledge that the law is clear on this point.When CWS intervene their mandate is to help the parents do a better job, thereby preventing a separation of parents and children. The law also states that if children have to be removed, the goal must be to reunite them with their parents. I’m not sure how to translate it, but the report refers to laws and pre-law documents from the government from 1985 to 2010 to show how important the biological principle is. These documents confirm the principle.
There is still a big but here. The committee appears to have emphasized on a semantic debate about the concept of principle. It claims that a principle is legally vague. A principle could be such a weighty precept that one has to justify it well in order to ignore this principle. The committee claims, however, that you could also choose to ignore the principle without breaking the law.
The Child Welfare Act (§ 4-12) provides four criteria that could lead to CWS being justified in removing children from their homes:
a) if there are serious deficiencies in the daily care of the children, or serious deficiencies in the personal contact and confidence the child needs according to age and development.
b) if the parents don’t ensure that a sick, handicapped or particularly needy child get his/her needs for treatment and education covered.
c) if the child is being abused or at a risk of serious abuse at home, or
d) if it is highly likely that the child’s health or development may be seriously harmed because the parents are unable to take adequately responsibility for the chilld.
Many people assume that the decisions made by CWS are as indisputable as a mathematical formula, but reality isn’t that simple. It’s fairly easy to assess the paragraphs b,c and d in § 4-12, but a is based on discretionary powers. This committee wants to change this, to something worse. They list three criteria for removing children from their families:
a) whether the quality of the bond and relation between caregivers and children is developmentally supportive.
b) the severity and stability of neglect (negligence, lack of treatment or training/education, mistreatment or abuse).
c) whether the caregivers characteristics (mental retardation, mental illness, substance abuse) is permanent or temporary.
This didn’t seem to do much about clearing things up. What does this really mean? I have written about Münchhausen syndrom in a previous post, and CWS seem to have a problem with women. There are many examples of mothers that have been accused of making a child sick, or insisting that the child is sick, but they never use the term Münchhausen. These children had been evaluated by specialists at the hospital, but CWS simply chose to ignore this. There have also been cases where a case worker in CWS had written in a report that the mother was severely mentally ill without a health professional ever talking to the mother. It was something this case worker just decided to do. I think these new criteria could very well be misused in the same way.
Diagnosis like autism spectrum disorder (which includes Asberger) and ADHD are neurological disorders, but for some inexplicable reason they are concidered psychiatric in DSM-V and ICD-10. So is learning disabilities, by the way. That is very illogical, and if employees in CWS assume that parents with a diagnosis are mentally ill, or that their children have suffered mental illness, these children are going to be much worse off when they become someone’s source of income in an institution. It’s not going to matter how much the parents cooperate with CWS.
The committee also recommended that experts were appointed in cases where neglect had not been observed, but where one suspects that it will occur in the future. They referred to § 4-12 d in the Child Welfare Act. This sounds very vague, and if CWS is going to exercise discretion, they may decide that the parents won’t be able to proivide enough care five years down the road. This will be a probation that never ends, and you could be declared unfit at any moment. It sounds to me that they want the government to be able to remove children for no reason, which means they want to change the law.
When it comes to experts, which are psychologists, there is a lot of evidence to suggegst that they feel pressured to say what CWS wants them to say. They get this assignment directly from CWS, and as these jobs are very profitable, they are not likely to make CWS look bad in a trial. They should have the backbone, but they don’t.
The report from this committee refers to research showing that early bonding and relationships are important to a child’s development. An insecure attachment could inhibit the emotional and cognitive development. This in turn could cause the child to have severe psychological problems. There are good reasons to keep the biological principle, and we will write more about this in part two of this post.