Good enough

What is good care?
What is theory of good care?

The Norwegian Child Protective Services is very controversial and there’s been protests against it worldwide. You may not have heard about it because we are not talking about the massive support and media coverage we have seen with for example Occupy Wall Street or anti-war demonstrations, but it is significant when a small group of people in 40 countries have protested specifically against the Norwegian CPS.

Norwegian media regularly reports on some of the outrageous decisions CPS tends to make, and we are generally getting a struggle where the weapons are information and rhetoric. Very few outsiders, if any, believe the assertion that the CPS is stealing children, but it may not be true that the CPS is a hundred percent correct, while parents only spread lies. The truth is rarely, if ever, that simple.

The CPS has been criticised a lot in recent years, especially after cases where children from countries like Lithuania, Poland and The Czech Republic have been taken from their parents. The problem is a lot bigger than many realize, though. I have a feeling that most people think traditionally about the CPS. In this view you only get the attention from the CPS if the children are victims of sexual or violent abuse, or if the parents have severe alcoholic or mental problems. These are the cases where children need protection. That’s when we need the CPS, but there is an increasing number of cases that has nothing to do with this.

There are many cases where parents lose their children because they can’t explain well enough what good care is. They don’t have a language or an understanding of theoretical concepts that meets the requirements set by the CPS or the court. How do you transfer practice to theory, and does this mean that you need academic qualifications to become a parent? There are many cases where the family GP, the kindegarten or school, The Mental Health Clinic for Children and Adolescents (they test children and give diagnoses) and specialists at the hospital concluded that the parents did a good job, while CPS came to the opposite conclusion. How is that possible?

This is an example of a family with mother, father, children and extended family. Does the new structure hurt children?
This is an example of a family with mother, father, children and extended family. Does the new structure hurt children? CPS seem to think so.
Photo: Evil Erin via Wikimedia Commons

I read an article in a Norwegian newspaper recently that described two ethnic Norwegian parents as loving and caring. This was how professionals had described them, but the parents had difficulties communicating this in court. That was an extreme situation and they couldn’t express themselves in ways they were expected to. The result was that they lost their twins and these two children were also separated from each other for the first time in their lives. Their attorneys believe this could have something to do with the large requirement for achievement you find in society. This is something we encounter from kindergarten to university, at work and when we socialize because there are strong social expectations as well.

There are some that see the lack of eye contact as a problem for example, even though this is common with people on the autism spectrum. There are also women from certain cultures that are not used to having eye contact with the person they are talking to. These are a couple of situations where case workers in the CPS could come to completely different conclusions if they follow different criteria. If there is an absolute requirement for eye contact, and there are absolutely no exceptions, autism or NLD could actually be the only justification the CPS needs to remove children. In addition to the family being separated, growing up in different foster homes or institutions is not any easier.

A Norwegian doctor of philosophy wrote a comment in a newspaper in 2003 following a case where the CPS had removed a child because the mother’s IQ was too low. I think he had a point when he said that no one can say for sure what kind of care is needed for your child to develop normally. We are talking about developing very subjective brains, and many parents with more than one child will tell you that what worked with the first child didn’t work with the second. There seems to be a lot of guesswork involved when caseworkers make their decisions. There are no narrow definitions because the professionals can’t agree on one, for obvious reasons.

If you were pressured to give an accurate accounnt of what good care is and describe concepts related to your own children’s feelings, while radiating security, would you be up for the task? Remember that this has to be done while you are under investigation, and later in the court room, knowing that whether or not you’ll see yoor children again will depend entirely on your amswers. I think the CPS should stick to what abuse or neglect is, but the way things work today they make conclusions that not even doctors and psychologists can defend. The CPS may overrule professionals, and they frequently do.

I understand very well why some people use strong language when they criticize CPS. There is a good reason for it and most Norwegians should try to educate themselves on some of the things these families struggle with. Norwegians have an extreme loyalty to authorities, and many assume that if CPS say that children are exposed to neglect, it has to be true. The truth is a little different because many decisions are left up to the case worker’s own descretion, and the experts they consult rely on a vague gut-feeling. Incidentally, many psychologists say that they can’t afford to disagree with CPS because they get this well-paid job directly from CPS, and not from the court. They have observed the family in an extreme situation, which it is when parents and children know that a wrong impression or word could determine whether or not they get to stay together. It’s not at all certain that this information, or the psychologist’s gut-feeling is accurate, while a long term contact with doctors, teachers, and specialists at the hospital could tell a different story.

What makes this especially serious is that decisions made by CPS are rarely reviewed by a judge. Decisions made without any support from evidence could be influenced by prejudices, which I believe everyone has to a certain degree. These prejudices could be transferred to a report, not necessarily consciously, but the language in the report could change the outcome. If the case worker has a vague suspicion that the mother (for some reason they are usually the target) is cold or has a psychological disorder, and decides to put this in the report as a fact, it will probably not be challenged by a professional evaluation. This is one of the reasons why CPS-workers sometimes reach a surprising conclusion,  one that the court in almost every appeal case confirms. This is the reason we see many of these cases related to minorities, low income, disabled people  and people that live an outside the box kind of life.

I don’t advocate for attacking CPS, or for removing this agency, but I want to make it better. CPS must become more professonal and listen to people that are already professionals within their own field. By the way, the government agreed last year to scrutinize CPS after many controversial cases, but the problem is that the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is going to do it, the agency that is the supervisory body for CPS. Nothing is going to change, and many feel that no one is listenning. I do think some parents have the right to be angry because the care they give is in most cases good enough.

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