Everything you wanted to know about Norwegian CPS Barnevernet and you were afraid to ask

Blogs   |  17.04. 2020

The children of the state, a new documentary about Barnevernet by Czech television, gives the public response to virtually everything you needed to know about Barnevernet and you were afraid to ask. The director Ivana Pauerova-Miloševič does not press on the viewer, she tries to keep her distance, and draws attention also to comparable failures in the Czech child protection service (CPS), especially the excessive use of institutional care for toddlers. But she leaves no doubt that there is something wrong with the Norwegian system and it would be a mistake to overlook these problems.

In spite of all the frightening snatching cases, the documentary attempts to explain the Norwegian approach to the Czech public. The path to misfortune is often paved with good intentions, and this documentary clearly shows how this statement applies to the Norwegian CPS „barnevernet“ 100 percent. The whole movie confirms virtually everything I have been saying for more than three years.


The vast difference between Norway and the Czech Republic

Whenever there is a discussion about Barnevernet, some important numbers should be mentioned, which are stated in the documentary too. Probably everyone will be interested in the numbers of snatchings. In Norway, according to sources in the document, 3,000 cases of removal are reported per year. By comparison, the Czech Republic has a bit more than that but is two times bigger than Norway. In total, Barnevernet receives up to 70,000 anonymous reports annually, and 80 % of them are being investigated. 53,000 children have some form of assistance - such as a “weekend foster-man who cuts wood with children.” This is one method used if Barnevernet considers that a child raised by a single-mother is missing a male role model, as Margaret Hruza, a Norwegian co-author of a documentary, reveals in one of the interviews.

Indeed, the main reasons for the removal of children are very different in both countries. While in the Czech Republic the most frequent reason for removing children should be the poor social situation of families, the most common reason in Norway is the lack of parental abilities. And here begins the whole problem, because it is a vague title, under which can be hidden anything; even a badly prepared breakfast.


Too much good for a child?

I have mentioned many times that the difficulty lies primarily in the unlimited power of Barnevernet. Virtually nobody has effective control over this state organisation. This is what knows very well for example the family of a woman named Charlotte, whose children had been kidnapped on the basis of her stepmother’s report. She was supposedly not giving the children sufficient care. The children were returned to Charlotte after 17 months. It was only after this long time that the Norwegian courts could declare that the snatching was absolutely unjustified. Throughout the proceedings, however, the mother became pregnant again. The newborn was preventively taken away only 14 hours after birth! They didn’t return this (third) child, stating the 6-month-old girl was used to the foster parents, and so the return to the biological parent was not possible. The family has been fighting for her daughter for more than five years now. They want to see her at least more often than four times a year.

Charlotte’s partner, who was also interviewed in the documentary, sees the problem in the fact that Barnevernet goes too far when taking children into care. The behaviour seems to be because they can, and not because it is needed. In short, “where abusive power can be abused, it will be abused,” as the co-creator Margareta Hruza said. If they don´t like you, they just take your child and find some reason. Barnevernet can explain everything by themselves. When the family had tidied their house, as they usually do before each visit, Barnevernet reported that it looked like no children lived in their home…

The words of Lotte’s partner are also (unintentionally) confirmed by the staff from one Barnevernet office, which allowed the interview. The lady admitted that somewhere they went too far while trying to provide the best further development for the children. According to the director Ivana Pauerová-Miloševič, Barnevernet no longer deals with problematic cases, but they have begun examining if a parent is good enough.

Anyone who wants to know more about the child protection philosophy in Norway, they should study the book Sveket, which in English is translated as “betrayal.” This is the Barnevernet bible, and as indicated by the title, a betrayed child is supposed to be the reason why the world looks the way it does. At least the author of the book, the Norwegian psychologist Kari Killén, is persuaded by this. The main priority is therefore following: the state is supposed to protect the child from every violence done by parents and foster parents. Protecting children from any negative stimulus has to be an absolute priority. The child must not be exposed to any stress or stimulus that could depress it. To show sadness in front of a child is unacceptable.

The state does everything to ensure that children are brought up to the best of their abilities. They even hold free courses for parents about “parent management”. The child must have more recognition for what it does (e.g. dishwashing), although this should be considered as natural.

The documentary also indirectly points out that the upbringing of children is in fact reduced to only a technical matter and that the biological parent’s emotional bond with the child plays virtually no role here. If a child is taken away and is entrusted to another person for a long period of time, the principle is that they must be left outside their original home due to the newly created bond.



State as a friend or tyranny of the majority?

From the documentary, you can sense the struggle to find people willing to talk about Barnevernet publicly. This especially applied to those who were willing to talk about Barnevernet critically. As Margaret Hruza said at the beginning, people can even lose their job when they publicly criticise the Norwegian social workers.

The truth is that being in the “care” of Barnevernet means social stigma and people, therefore, refuse to talk about it. Other people think that something really must’ve happened if Barnevernet came. Why? They cannot admit that it could be a mistake. Nor the Norwegian partner of Margaret was willing to speak on this subject because he was not willing to accept any criticism of the Norwegian system. 

Those who observed the situation for a long time are not surprised that Barnevernet did not show much willingness to speak. Their introversion and hiding for the best interest of children is a long-standing problem. The reluctance to do the opposite was explained by one of the aforementioned Barnevernet employee. She said it is because the Czech media do not write positively about the institution.

Norwegian society is typically non-critical of the state and has a trusting, and close relationship with it. The state is considered a “friend,” who wants only the best for people. The same applies to respecting all social conventions that are not written, but everyone knows they should be observed. Failure to comply, albeit unwritten, may cause suspicion in others, and the person may find himself in Barnevernet’s viewfinder or face other inconveniences.

It reminded me of the almost 200-year-old words of the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, who in his famous work ‘Democracy in America’ warned against the tyranny of the majority manifesting just as described above. The company is labelled with a number of different rules, and no one has to go too far. And if that happens, the person concerned has to face an ostracism from the rest of society.


Norway, the country of fear

And the same applies to today’s Norway. Every parent must keep an eye on each other. The pressure to adhere to the rules is enormous. Sofie, the little daughter of Margaret Hruza, told to her mother at the beginning of the documentary that she would like to invite her friends or just some girls to her birthday, but she cannot. Why? Other children would be sad because they were not invited too. They would have to invite at least the entire class.

The fact that the pressure of society is real in Norway, and it can be very unpleasant especially for foreigners, can eloquently demonstrate the story of journalist Andrej Ruščák. He lived in Norway for several years but recently decided to return to the Czech Republic. He did not feel well in Norway precisely because of the ubiquitous oversight of the society.

E.g. the control of children at a nurse reminded him of interrogation, and the overall social pressure on compliance and enforcement of informal rules was hard for him and his family to bear. Barnevernet was an imaginary last drop for him, and his move back to the Czech Republic described Ruščák as “a statement" - a form of expression of disagreement with what is happening in Norway.

The children of the state is a very strong statement that there is really something wrong in Norway, and the talk about unjust kidnapping is not just a fancy rumour. I therefore ask how many such documentaries must be filmed so that all the non-critical Barnevernet supporters finally understand that there is something really wrong and they should stop playing down the situation, and not even hold Norway for an inspiration and pattern for changes in the foreign child protection system?