From: Lena Hellblom Sjögren, PhD, chartered psychologist Testimonia
Mon Mogattu 76
79397 Siljansnäs, Sweden , +46709 88 88 68
To: Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland
Oslo November 12, Mon November 16, 2018
The background for writing to you is that I heard you lecture at Litteraturhuset about Barnevernet earlier this month, in a recording of your lecture made by Rune Fardal, “Familiekanalen.”
You then said the same thing as the state representant in Grand Chamber hearing in the Lobben case, 17 October , 2018: the biggest problem for the social welfare system in Norway is not that too many interventions are made, but too few; there are so many children in need of help and support from unsound homes who do not get help in time, and when they need it most.
This statement generates these questions:
- Is there any relevant and reliable statistical report on how many children and families in Norway in need of interventions from the Norwegian social welfare services?
- Are there any reliable evaluations of the effects and consequences of the interventions that are made?
- Have these interventions given the children taken into care by the social services adequate help?
- How is help defined?
Background for me, the questioner
15-20 years ago I investigated several Norwegian complicated custody disputed cases, often with criminal charges, and also some criminal cases. I followed them up in court. Actually, I have been given testimony in several ”herredsretter,”(local courts) l ”lagmannretter” (regional higher courts) all over Norway, and once also in ”Höyste Rett” (the Supreme Court). But this was all before the committee of state-approved psychologists to evaluate reports was formed.
In Norway, the Child Welfare Service (Barnevernet) has lately been accused of ”state kidnapping.” We are a group of 268 professionals who in 2016 reported our concerns about Barnevernet, something that we now are trying to follow up. Ms. Gro Hillestad Thune, formerly Norway’s delegate in the European Commission on Human Rights, also a member in this group, states that the human right to family life is violated on an everyday basis in Norway. As I have observed the similarities between the function and power that Barnevernet in Norway, and Socialtjänsten in Sweden, has, I want to forward some of my observations as an answer of concern to you to your speech, and to you as the responsible Minister for Barnevernet.
First some self evident facts that might need to be pointed out
- There are children in need of protection from clearly and/or objectively confirmed harmful home conditions.
- To place these children in need of love/acceptance in homes with total strangers who get paid and take orders from Barnevernet – may not be the best way to help these children.
- There are many good and very well-meaning employees within Barnevernet in Norway.
- This should however not lead to the conclusion that children should be taken from their parents and extended family when someone in charge within Barnevernet thinks that a child might be at risk.
Violation of the child´s human right to family life and to keep its identity
Going back to the statement made by the former Norwegian ECHR judge Gro Hillestad Thune, I would like to try to explain the background for the violation of the children´s human rights to family life, and to keep their identity, that is taking place in Norway – and actually also in Sweden – on an everyday basis.
The interpretations made by the employed within Barnevernet handling a case and her investigation and recommendations are not well-founded. Why is that? Because nor Barnevernet – or Socialtjänsten – focus on impartial fact-finding and humanity. You can add to that: they do not have reliable measures and standardized methods to make well founded prophecies about risks, children´s well-being, and they do not make authentic documentation, which makes it impossible to evaluate the interventions made.
Malpractice within the social services when children are removed from their families of origin is thus the rule, not the exception.
As the one in charge from Barnevernet does mostly not consider the child ́s or the parents ́ human right to family life in the investigations and recommendations made the child´s right to a family life and to keep his/her identity is not either a matter of concern for the national courts.
When a child is believed – nota bene not obviously or by any reliable documentation – to have been harmed, and thus to be in need of protection, measures are often taken by Barnevernet for such protection before any investigation is made.
Before any physical, psychological or sexual abuse or some very harming life conditions, have been observed or documented, the measure to place the child out of the child ́s family can in itself be very harmful and traumatic. To place a mother who claims the father has abused her and/or the children, together with the children in a women´s shelter is one example of such a measure that can harm the children much more than help them. Often the child has in these cases to break up from school and their every day life. After the break up they are treated as if they have been abused which is very harmful to the child – when the reality might be that the child has not been abused.
When the Barnevernet worker makes her investigation after having placed the child in protection from the parent/-s believed to be dangerous they cannot, find out how it is for the child to be with that parent/these parents in their daily life. This, obvious to everyone, is due to the fact that the preconditions have been drastically changed by the measure already made – often traumatic to the child, but never seen as that, as the intentions are good.
What is observed and investigated is thus mostly the reactions to the changes made. The words spoken out by the child in what is seen as protection, are often a repetition of what the child has heard. The child´s spontaneous story with the child´s own words cannot be heard as the shild´s memory is contaminated by a lot of questioning by professionals, foster parents, or helpers with preconceived ideas about what has happened in the past.
With this background, what is called the child ́s will, is not necessarily the real will of the child, but more likely the will the child has been influenced to express as the child´ will.
Research: children left in their “risky homes” were better off than both adopted and children placed in foster care
There is scientifically sound research that Barnevernet does not take notice of. This research tells us that children placed in strangers’ homes away from their own family are worse off than adopted children. They are even worse off than children kept in their risky homes. These results of very severe risks for children´s well-being seem not to be known. Or, are they consciously neglected to keep “business as usual”?
In a longitudinal study ([i]) of about 700 children diagnosed to be in need of being placed out of their risky home environment, about one third of them were placed in foster homes. Nearly one third of them were adopted and a little more than one third of them stayed in their risky homes. When, after several years, these children were followed up by looking at their school results, if they had been registered within psychiatric care, with drug addiction problems, or had been registered as criminals, and also if they had committed suicide, the result was that the children left at home were best off. Second best on all these measurable variables were the adopted children. Worst off were the children who had been placed in foster homes.
Statistics tell us that children once placed in foster care are re-homed over and over again until they are 18 (sometimes 20) and that placed teenagers very often (in about 50 %) run away.
To my knowledge there is no research showing that children are better off in life after having been placed in foster care. So, why are these known risks not considered when making risk assessments, and before taking decisions to remove a child from the child ́s family?
If there was a medicine that could cure cancer, but at the same time caused worse pain and even death to the patient, would that medicine be prescribed with state support on a large scale?
Evaluation is needed – of the outcome in relation to what science tells us, in relation to the human suffering reported, and in relation to the tax payers´ money
It was stated in a Swedish state report that “the contents of the files often lack an overall structure, uniform concepts and definitions”. From what I have seen, these problems still exist in both Sweden and in Norway. It is a fact that children in foster care are still being abused, not in the least psychologically, physically and heavily neglected regarding love/acceptance, school and medical care. [ii].
The financial costs for society and for the affected families, trying to defend their right to their own children and grandchildren who have been placed in well paid foster homes without any good reasons for such placements, are huge.
The human suffering is immense, and the damages on the children – often lifelong – are not possible to measure. We know though, that children who have lost their identity when they have not received love and acceptance within their own family system seek it elsewhere, for example in extremist groups or in criminal groups. The best prevention would be to give support to the parent/-s or to some other adult/-s in the family who can take responsibility as parents. That would also be less expensive.
There is now consensus within the scientific community, after several well designed investigations, and also a meta-study by Richard Warshak, that children´s well-being and health profit most from a shared every day life with both parents. This conclusion is also applicable for small children, earlier thought to be better off staying with their mothers.
Thus, all assistance ought to begin in the family, to avoid breaking down the family, the corner stone for building a human society according to the UN declaration on human rights. The European Court, Strasbourg, has repeated in its child care verdicts:
”The State must unceasingly make efforts to re-unite the children with their families.”
Verdicts for the reunification of children with their families are not implemented in Norway, or in Sweden. Children are suffering. Parents are suffering. Grandparents are suffering. High suicide rates and deaths related to stress in families affected by the removal of their children and limitation of visiting rights have been noted. Specific statistics need to be made.
Lena Hellblom Sjögren
[i] Bohman, M. & Sigvardsson, S. (1980). A prospective longitudinal studies of children registered for adoption. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 61, 339-355.
[ii] In 2006 an “Abuse and Neglect inquiry” was appointed (officially: “The Swedish Inquiry on Child Abuse and Neglect in Institutions and in Foster Homes, 1930 – 1980”). In the final report (SOU 2011:63 /State Official Investigation 2011:63/) for the 866 persons interviewed about abuse and neglect that had occurred before 1980, 763 of the 798 who were placed in foster homes (96 %) told about abuse and neglect. In Mattsson, Titti, Vinnerljung, Bo (2016). Barn i familjehem. Förslag på åtgärder som skulle göra skillnad för samhällets mest utsatta. Children in family homes. Suggestions on measures that would make a difference for the children most in need in society. you can find a lot of relevant and good references regarding the negative outcome of child welfare clients.