The Bodnariu family
I was asked lately, a number of times, why I am not commening on the case of Bodnariu family, a Romanian married to a Norwegian, whose children were taken recently by Barnevernet, the Child Welfare Service in Norway.
First, I want to express very clearly my compassion for this family. Whatever the case of this very painful situation, I hope no family would ever go through this. I also hope that, with wisdom and good will on both siodes, the situation will be solved, and children will be returned soon to their natural family.
Secondly, I did not comment on this until now because I do not know the facts. All I know is what the affected family is saying and what others comment about it. However, we do not have yet any official point of view and, really, we do not have the facts. I do not use to hold opinions on things I do not know enough about. I know that every Romanian has at least two (often conflicting) opinions about any given matter, but I am not a fan of this national sport.
Thirdly, in light of the above, when I was approached by somebody about this matter, I have suggested that those concerned should approach Forum 18, a respected Norwegian agency spoecialised in religious persecution. That have the credit of the public, the respect of the government, and the necessary expertise to explore the actual facts. I am not aware that anubody has done that yet. rather, the virtual space is filled with a sort of hysteria, if not real paranoia, about some ocult conspiracy. This is promoted especially by the fundamentalist comandos if the US (Cristian Ionescu and the like), who are stirring up regularly such campaigns in Romania, in order o justofy their financial campaigns (it’s all about money, stupid).
Knowing all this, I have decided to ask the opinion of Norwegian friend, who is a respected educational specialist, and who knows very well the context there. With his permision, I share with you here his response, without disclosing his name, in order to protect his privacy. I underlined in bold the most imporant passages.
* * *
Sorry for the delay! I have been somewhat busy and I wanted to check a little before I answered you.
I guess we are talking about the Bodnariu family living in Nausdal. I have found information on the Internet, mostly blogs. Strangely I found nothing on Norwegian national news media. This is strange, since they usually are quick to report on matters concerning the Child Welfare Service (Barnevernet in Norwegian). Still there might be local media interest, but my search did not find it.
Here is what I found, mostly based on the appeal made by the father´s brother in “Popas pentru suflet”.
Mid November the Child Welfare Service in Nausdal took custody of the five children, the youngest 3 months old. This has apparently been done without a court order or documentation. It is claimed that in Norway children are considered the property of the state and that the Child Welfare Service targets immigrant families or families where one parent is of different nationality. It is also claimed that the Child Welfare Service rewards its employees for “generating” leads that can create casework for the organization. It is also claimed that teachers in school encourage children to report parents to notify the teacher if the parents make the child do something the child finds unappealing – like homework. It is also claimed that the Child Welfare Service has a long history of acting on unimaginable grounds like “the father putting the child to do certain chores in the home, the baby sleeping in the same bed as the parent or the child weighing one kilogram lighter than the national average for his/her age group”. In the Bodnariu case it is claimed that the reason given by the Child Welfare Service was “religious indoctrination”.
As you will understand, I have no way of knowing what has happened in the Bodnariu family and what the reasons of the Child Welfare Service in Nausdal were for doing what they did. One of the problems in cases involving the Child Welfare Service (and the Heath Service or the Social Service) is that they are bound by client confidentiality and are by law forbidden to “go public” no matter what they are accused of. In some cases (mostly if the press is very involved) there will be an inquiry, but that takes time, and by the time the facts are established the press has lost interest, and very few will be informed of the results of the inquiry. In the Bodnariu case the events are so recent that the public in reality has no chance of knowing what is what. So my comments will be general and focus on what is likely and not.
The claim that “religious indoctrination” is the reason for intervention is hard to believe. Next to the Church of Norway, the Pentecostal community is one of the largest religious movements in Norway (about 300 congregations) and it is unlikely that the Pentecostal community would not have reacted. There is no tradition in the Child Welfare Service that belief or religion per se is a reason for intervention. There are examples where the Child Welfare Service has taken custody when belief has led to life threatening decisions on the part of the parent. This is the case when Jehovah’s Witnesses deny a child life saving surgery because surgery would involve blood transfusion. In such cases parents loose custody on a temporary basis and parental custody is restored after the treatment of the child has been ended.
One claim that often has been made is that ignorance of cultural differences can be the grounds for intervention from the Child Welfare Service. This might be true in some cases, but sometimes it also seems to be the case that parents are ignorant of Norwegian law. In Norway it is by law forbidden for parents to use physical punishment, and repeated use of physical punishment could be cause for intervention. It is however important to remember that taking custody of a child never will be the first action taken. The Child welfare Service is obliged to offer counseling, help in the family, a support person for the family etc. and only as a last resort taking custody should be considered.
A court order is not required (or usual), but taking custody shall always be based on a decision made by the Child Welfare Service Board in the municipality. In emergency cases immediate action can be taken, but then the local Child Welfare Service Board must approve this afterwards. In every county there also is a Child Welfare Service board (independent from the municipalities) where decisions made by the local authorities can be appealed. In the Bodnariu case an appeal was made, but two days ago the family lost the appeal and the loss of custody of the children was upheld.
The claims that the Child Welfare Service is an “industry” rewarding employees for creating cases to improve funding is absurd. Government funding of the Municipalities (Norway has a system of local autonomy) is not based on local number of cases or how many families have lost custody of their children. It is true that expenditure on Child Welfare Services has gone up in recent years, but a more credible explanation is that Child Welfare is considered important in Norway. That the schools encourage children to report parents for making them do homework is equally absurd. We have an ongoing discussion about the benefits of homework and worries that children in some families will lack parental support for homework. Because this is the case, homework would increase the social differences, but the argument has been to increase time in school so that all children could get help with their “homework”.
I am also surprised [of the statement] that children in Norway are considered the property of the state (in the brother´s words “Children are considered property of the state; a premise utilized by the Barnevernet to abduct children and place them in foster family care for any unchecked/unregulated/unaudited reason as upheld by the Barnevernet”. In different surveys and indexes Norway has achieved very high scores. On the UN Human Development Index from 2014 (2015 not published yet) Norway was number 1 (same as in 2013), and on the “Happiness index” in Live Science for 2015 Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark and Norway were top four with no statistically significant difference in the score of the four countries. I doubt that the researchers involved in these reports would have missed the fact that children in Norway are the property of the state. In fact I can tell you that children in Norway are not the property of the state [see HERE and HERE].
So, what of the Bodnariu family and what has happened to them? As I said earlier, I do not know, and it will at the moment be extremely difficult for anybody not party to the case to know. The parents are angry and troubled (and that is understandable) and have their version supporting their frustration. The Child Welfare Service has said nothing and will not be allowed to say anything because they are bound by client confidentiality and we must remember that the information we have about what the Child Welfare Service has said and done is from the frustrated parents.
Norwegian media have not reported on the case and the decision to take custody of the Bodnariu children has been upheld by the County Child Welfare Service Board. To me this signals that there is more to the case than what we know at the moment.
Different parties who have been engaged in this case point to reactions in other countries (Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic) on the behaviour of the Norwegian Child Welfare Service. There have been some cases, but the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have checked them all. Norway has offered corrective information and information about how the Norwegian Child Welfare Service works and how it is organized, but there seem to be some “spin doctors” who for unknown reasons want to “spin” these cases.
The Minister for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Solveig Horne has taken the accusations from abroad seriously in a column in Norway’s most influential paper, Aftenposten.
At the end of the column she says:
“More resources granted, and a study
Horne noted that more than 4,000 Lithuanians had protested against the negative picture presented of Barnevernet in their country. Information about Barnevernet is also being presented both through her ministry and the foreign ministry, to clarify Norwegian law and parents’ rights.
Horne said the Directorate in charge of child and family issues (Bufdir) has been granted more resources to boost competence and help local governments as advisers in specific cases with international aspects. And she has commissioned a study to see whether Barnevernet workers evaluate cases involving Norwegian children differently from those involving children of non-Norwegians. Bufdir, she wrote, is also in the midst of a three-year project aimed at increasing confidence in its operations within immigrant communities in Norway.”
Information on the Norwegian Child Welfare Service on the home pages of the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I hope this answers some of your questions.
* * *
In a further message, my friend added:
I agree that there is much hysteria in this case. We must however remember that no matter what has happened the family is in turmoil, but it does not help their case when people surrounding them present unreasonable and untrue “facts”. It is custumary in cases where the Child Welfare Service takes custody of children in a family that there are certain demands as to changes the family should make, if they want the custody to be returned to them. Making unreasonable and untrue claims will just support the case of the Child Welfare Service. My advice would be to try to seek the support of their Pentecostal community. No matter what happened they need support. They should also see if they can find grounds for cooperation, maybe with the assistance of the community. So, please feel free to use the information, but be ready for some unpleasant reactions!