A challenge in modern democratic states is how to provide for children at risk of poverty, abuse, neglect and other dangers that might inflict harm. The main dilemma is how to provide for and protect children without intruding on the parent’s rights of privacy and their right to a family life of their own choosing. Moreover, child welfare services’ practices in some cases make the issue of child welfare more controversial than conflicting. One of the best illustrating examples of this problem is the latest barnevern crisis between India and Norway.
Two kids of the NRI couple were taken under protective care last May by Barnevernet, which claimed emotional disconnect with the parents, and placed them in foster parental care as per the local Norwegian court’s directive.
Cultural Biases and Misconceptions
The family had accused the Norwegian authorities with cultural misunderstandings and prejudice as they were taken for being fed by hand and sleeping in the same bed as their parents in addition to insufficient toys to play in the house.After Indian Foreign Ministry intervened the investigation, the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre helped children to be handed to children’s uncles.
Russians Mobilized against Barnevernet with Russian Women’s Statements
Even though this case was resolved in peace, it did not help to stop criticism against Norwegian children welfare authorities, who are said to abuse their power and be ignorant against cultural differences. The Indian media blamed the authorities for being arrogantly insensitive to child rearing under a different culture. Vanitha Srinavasan from The Hindu Business Line accused Norway of enforcing ‘one size fits all’ in human rights or child care. While similar articles are being published at Indian media, a group of Russians involved in the process. Outside the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow, the members of the youth organization of the ruling party, the United Russia made a demonstration with strong slogans.
“The Norwegian child welfare service is Breivik,” they cried.
The protests came after Russian media have recently run a series of issues about how more and more Russian women living in Norway are deprived of their children. Especially two cases on Russian media were strong enough to mobilize the protestors. One of these news stories featured a Russian citizen, who lives in Norway, whose name is Maya Kasayeva. Her shocking staments took many newspapers’ front pages:
“During the court hearings, the judge told me: ’We give you residence permit, and you give us your son.’ I refused, and then the repressions started.”
Child Abuse Accusation against Host Families
The claims in the second case were more outraging. Irina Bergseth Frolova, a Russian woman living in Norway, had found out that her ex-husband, a Norwegian citizen, as well as his friends and relatives, had been raping their four-year-old son. The reports also remind another foster father who was previously been found guilty for child pornography and child sexual abuse in Stavanger.
In fact, the practices of Barnevern do not only worry Russians and Indians. There is a deep rooted skepticism among local groups towards an increased use of home based measures. A report prepared by Gruppen til Familiens Selvstendige Rett (GFSR), Redd Våre Barn (RVB) and BarnasRett concludes that current practices in the Norwegian Child Protection system are not compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Arild Holta, as an activist against children’s segregation from their parents asks for an urgent need to re-evaluate the fundamental principles along which the Child Protection system works in Norway.
Familiestiftelsen is a foundation run based on similar concerns by a group of parents and grandparents. They feel upset at the lack of respect for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with regard to the protection of children against mental and physical abuse and separation from parents and grandparents.
A Growing Industry Open to Corruption
Professor of linguistics at the University of Bergen, Marianne Haslev Skånland points out another problematic dimension of the child welfare system. According to Skånland, it is turning into an industry, which pays incredible amounts, especially to psychologists, for “reports” and to foster “parents”. They advertise for people to be foster parents and announce a yearly pay of, say, NOK 430.000 (€ 30.000) plus paid holidays and regular “time off” from the foster children plus allowances for building their house or buying an extra car plus pension entitlement. The business also, of course, provides extra income and extra jobs for social workers, writes Skånland. She also notes that child care cases often rely on information from anonymous sources. She thinks one never knows who the sources are, and whether the sources are reliable. Or whether the sources possess first hand information, or are pure rumors.
Another disputed issue is multicultural knowledge and skills in the child welfare service. Numbers from Statistics Norway show that children with minority background are more frequently in contact with child welfare service than children with majority background.
At the same time, statistics show that only around 2 per cent of employees in the child welfare service have a non-western minority background, while around 3 per cent of students at child welfare and social work programmes have a non-western minority background.
– Immigrants face a somewhat difficult situation here. Everyone is afraid because they feel that one day their turn will come and their children will be taken away from them, tells an immigrant background Norwegian. Moreover, some families are accusing officials from the agency of being reckless and racist by abusing the agency’s legal authorities against immigrant families.
Large increase in the use of foster homes
From 2009 to 2010, the use of national supported foster homes increased by 16 per cent. During this period, the total number of children registered in the national Child Welfare Service saw a rise of 7 per cent, and reached a total of 5 700 children in 2010.
More children in foster homes and fewer in children’s institutions
At the end of 2010, approximately 5 700 children were registered in the national Child Welfare Service. Since 2009, this figure has increased by more than 7 per cent. On average there are 4.6 children per thousand (age 0-19) registered in the Child Welfare Service in 2010; a climb of 15 per cent since 2006. Of the 5 700 children registered in the national Child Welfare Service, 59 per cent stayed in foster homes, 23 per cent stayed in children’s institutions and 19 per cent received assistance while living at home. The number of children in the national supported foster homes increased by 16 per cent from 2009 to 2010. In a longer time perspective, this increase is even bigger; from 2006 to 2010 the number of children in national supported foster homes increased by almost 51 per cent, from nearly 2 200 to 3 300 children. During the same period, the number of children in children’s institutions decreased by 16 per cent, and totalled 1 300 children in 2010.
More than one million treatment days in Child Welfare Service
The total number of treatment days in the national Child Welfare Service was approximately 1.1 million, and this has only changed marginally since 2009. In 2010, the foster homes and children’s institutions together had approximately 900 000 treatment days, while children receiving assistance while living at home had 190 000 treatment days. The latter has seen a marked increase of 21 per cent since 2009.
Expensive bed-day prices in child welfare institutions
The total expenditure for the national Child Welfare Service was almost NOK 5.6 billion in 2010; a rise of more than 3 per cent from the year before. Prices per bed-day in foster homes have climbed 7 per cent from 2009 to 2010. One bed-day in foster homes cost NOK 2 700 in 2010. This is less than half of what a bed-day costs in child welfare institutions, where the price was almost NOK 7 000.
One third of the national Child Welfare Service is not public
In 2010, approximately NOK 1.8 billon was spent on buying child welfare services from the private sector. This is about one third of the total budget for the national Child Welfare Service, and this share has been quite stable for the last 5 years.
Almost NOK 3 billion in wages
In total, there were 4 400 contracted man-year in the national Child Welfare Service in 2010. The total expenditure on salaries in 2010 was a bit more than NOK 2.8 billion; an increase of approximately 6 per cent since 2009. (SSB)