Note: As you can see below, my Norwegian friend has followed closely the conversation here on this case and is offering a further (and final) perspective on this matter.
* * *
We certainly entered a wasps nest (or maybe a rats nest) engaging in this discussion. I have read all the postings you have sent me, and I have followed up the different links and watched the taped interviews with interest.
Before I make my comments, I want to make it perfectly clear that yes, errors are made, and every error is one too many, and that I am all for continued improvement of the organization and the routines of the Child Welfare Service. (I prefer to use the official name even if some call it the Child Protection service.)
BUT if you want to change a system you cannot do it based on anecdotal evidence. If you look it up, you will find a lot of definitions and descriptions of “anecdotal evidence”, but here is one from Wikipedia:
“Anecdotal evidence is evidence from anecdotes. Where only one or a few anecdotes are presented, there is a larger chance that they may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases. Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a generalized claim; it is, however, within the scope of scientific method for claims regarding particular instances, for example the use of case studies in medicine.”
If we look at what has been presented in this case, it is anecdotal evidence. Even if we assume that the stories presented are true examples of wrongdoings on the part of the Child Welfare Service, what do we have? Less than 10 examples spanning 5 years!
In 2014 the Norwegian Child Welfare Service initiated 41900 investigations. If you multiply this by five years covered by the anecdotal evidence you have around 200000 investigations and 10 examples of wrongdoing. Even if you tenfold or hundredfold the examples, that will still be only a tiny fraction of the cases the Child Welfare Service has been engaged in. Based on the flimsiest of flimsy “evidence” the entire Child Welfare Service is depicted as insensitive, incompetent and self-righteous.
The whole discussion started with what has happened to the Bodnariu family. Since the Child Welfare Service is organized as a municipal service (Norway has 428 municipalities) it might have been of interest if some of the examples were connected with the Child Welfare Service office in question. None of the examples pertain the Child Welfare Service in Nausdal.
More anecdotal evidence is presented in the 20 min. interview with the psychologist Einar Salvesen on YouTube. He presents some examples of badly managed cases and claims to have knowledge of fare more. He also claims that experts write reports to please the Child Welfare Service in order to be commissioned to write more reports thus making working as an expert a multimillion industry, that the Child Welfare Service boosts cases and “orders” reports to increase their budgets, that the ties between Child Welfare Service and expert in this way get too close, and that he has knowledge of expert reports with detrimental conclusions for the parents based on one single conversation.
Strong accusations, and let us look at the facts. In 2014 there were 53088 children with care from the Child Welfare Service. 43477 received assistant measures (support in the home, free kindergarten, sports activities for the children etc.) and 9611 were under care measures (normally custody of the children). These figures comprise the entire group in the age 1-17 in Norway, which means around 1.4 million children and adolescents. If you break down these figures, 0.76 % of the children in the age group 1-17 (1.4 million) were under care measures while 2,2 % received assistant measures.
If you look at the year 2014 the Child Welfare Service concluded 41000 investigations. In 42 % of these investigations the conclusion was some sort of action from the Child Welfare Service. In 1.5 % of the cases care measures were recommended and the case was sent to the county social welfare board. Care measures are under the Child Welfare Act, Section 4-12 (and section 4-8). All decisions on taking over care for a child and placing it away from its home for upbringing is decided in the county social welfare board. A child can be under care until it is 18 years old.
In 44 % of the investigations the Child Welfare Service concluded that there was no need of any assistance or intervention. 8 % of the cases were closed because the family did not want any help and 5 % were closed because the family had moved. As we see, in less than half of the investigations any measures were taken and in only 1,5 % the Child Welfare Service took custody of the children. The information is from the annual report from Statistics Norway. [See HERE and HERE]
So where is the multimillion industry? The claim was that experts write reports to please the Child Welfare Service in order to be commissioned to write more reports thus making working as an expert a multimillion industry. 1.5 % of the cases concluded with a recommendation of child measures, which demand an expert report. 1.5 % is 615 cases in all of Norway in 2014 out of 41000 is not much of a business deal. In my opinion these figures raise serious doubt about the claim that expert reports are written to comply with wishes from the Child Welfare Service that has a wish boost cases for budged reasons. 615 expert reports spread all over the country is also no basis for a multimillion industry even if only a few experts were involved in all cases. The notion of only a few experts having a countrywide monopoly is also contradicted by the size of the country and the distances involved in travelling between the 428 municipalities. It is just not practically possible.
What about the claim that expert reports with detrimental conclusions for the parents, are based on one conversation? If this is the case, then the reason obviously cannot be making money since the experts are paid by the hour. The reason for such a report might of course be a fatal lack of professional ethics, but in addition the expert would also have to be extremely stupid. Being stupid would also apply to the Child Welfare Service trying to use such a report. Obviously this is anecdotal evidence; at best a singular case, and such “evidence” cannot be applied to a whole group of professionals without further substantiating evidence.
Finally, the accusation that the ties between the experts and the Child Welfare Service are too close, and that the Child Welfare Service has undue influence on the decision to take custody of a child. There are two reasons why this is hard to believe.
All decisions on taking over care for a child and placing it away from its home for upbringing is decided in the county social welfare board. County and municipality are separate administrative levels with no overlaps. Even if such ties should exist at the municipal level the effect of these ties will disappear on the next administrative level (county). The proof often offered for the existence of these ties is that even if there is no formal connection, the same people sit on both sides of the table and that there are too close ties between the professionals (mostly psychologists).
The second reason why the existence of an unholy alliance between experts and the Child Welfare Service is unlikely is that the system is very transparent (in spite of the claims of the opposite).
In 2014 the Ministry for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion issued a set of rules regulating the activity of professional experts. The intention behind these rules is to provide greater transparency about the relationship between the expert and the commissioning authority and the authority responsible for making decisions. In addition the rules should heighten the consciousness about legal competence.
Every professional expert is obliged to submit a written statement detailing the number of expert reports, consultations, supervisions etc. the expert has had for the employer of his/her services. In addition the statement must include information about previous work as expert county board member and/or duty as assistant judge during the last two years. In addition the professional expert must submit a CV detailing professional education, specialization, fields of employment, research and employer/employers. If the employing agency is large, the expert must also supply information about the executive officer/officers he/she has been working for or has cooperated with. The statement and the CV shall follow the expert report in all instances and at all levels where the expert report is submitted. [See HERE]
In 2010 the government also established the Expert Commission on Children to quality assure all reports submitted by experts in child welfare cases “whether these (reports) have been ordered by the child welfare service, the county social welfare board, the courts or the private parties. It is only once a report has been reviewed by the commission that it can form the basis for measures in accordance with chapter 4 of the Child Welfare Act. An expert report that forms the basis for the child welfare service not implementing measures must also be submitted to the commission.
The Expert Commission on Children consists of a chair and 15 commission members who are appointed by the King in Council for a period of three years. The current commission has been appointed for the period from 25 January 2013 until 31 December 2015. The commission’s secretariat shares premises with the Norwegian Civil Affairs Authority in Oslo.” [See HERE]
The work of the commission has had its critics (more anecdotal evidence), but it is an important step in the direction of assuring the quality of expert reports in the Child Welfare Service.
Given these provisions you really have to be into conspiracy theory to believe that unholy alliances between professional experts and employing agency can go undetected.
So far we have looked at claims pertaining alleged misdoings by the Child Welfare Service and the professionals they employ. The focus has been on possible wrongdoing of an overzealous Service intent on destroying families by removing children from the care of their parents. The picture presented is of a public service staffed by incompetent and money hungry people, intent on destroying families. People associated with the Child Welfare Service (experts, members of the county social welfare board) are also incompetent and lack ethical standards and professional integrity and everybody is part of a multimillion industry. In my opinion the evidence presented is anecdotal and does not support the conclusions. Frankly, if this evidence and these conclusions had been presented in a thesis, even at the bachelor level of a decent university, the student would have flunked.
Still anecdotal evidence is not without merit if it is used properly. Anecdotal evidence is a good starting point for asking questions in an evaluation of the service. When starting with anecdotal evidence you must however have an open mind. It is of course important to check if the stories are true, but more important is to check if the stories are representative of what goes on in the service. I would have no problem finding at least 20 stories – anecdotal evidence- depicting a well-functioning Child Welfare Service, staffed by competent dedicated people working with families who accept unpopular and painful decisions because they see that at this point they are necessary. But that would only “prove” that different people have different experiences with the Child Welfare Service.
My contention is that any change based on either set of anecdotal evidence would be wrong. In the construction business they have a saying: “Ask before you start digging”. “Dig first and ask later“ is not a responsible approach.
I therefore commend the group of more than 100 professional who signed a petition to the government expressing their concern for the situation in the Child Welfare Service. The Minister for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion has respondent positively and she has invited representatives of the group to a meeting where she hoped she would get concrete suggestions for possible changes.
There is one claim I find especially absurd and insulting to the group of Norwegian foster parents. It is the claim that being a foster parent is a lucrative business. To support the claim, figures of yearly salary of NOK 430000, paid vacations and other benefits are presented. The figures are correct, but are not the whole truth; actually they are relevant for only a small number of foster homes. As Hitlers propaganda minster, Goebels, said: “When telling a lie, add some of the truth. In that way you make the lie credible”. If however one wants the truth, one needs the whole picture.
Being a foster parent is in Norway regarded as a job and all foster parents are paid compensation. The compensation consists of two parts, salary and expenses. The salary is taxed and money for expenses will cover extra food, clothes, hobbies, sports activities etc. Mostly being a foster parent will be a part time job, but sometimes it will also be a full time job. Part time or full time is decided by the needs of the foster child. If for some reason connected to the needs of the foster child one of the foster parents has to stay at home, a compensation for lost income from work will be paid (taxable).
In some cases the needs of the child are so great that they need the support of a foster home with additional support measures. Foster homes with additional support represent a minor part of the foster homes in Norway. In a foster home with additional support measures, one of the foster parents will be engaged as a full time foster parent. In these cases a salary of NOK 430000 may be paid. This is not an excessive salary in Norway and corresponds to what a normal teacher might earn. Paid vacation is no big deal. All Norwegians who are working have 5 weeks of paid vacation per year. Actually you pay your own vacation because for 11 months your employer withholds 10.2 % of your salary and during you holidays this sum is paid back to you. Sometimes the foster child might have special needs and special adaptations in the foster home might be needed. If, for example the foster child is physically challenged, there might be a need for alterations in the home, and this will be compensated. It is however always the needs of the child that are the basis of extra compensation.
That being a foster parent is regarded as a job is one of the strong points of the system. It is not charity, and when you pay a salary and have a contract you can demand that people do a proper job.
The claim that being a foster parent is a lucrative business is also contradicted by the fact that there is a serious shortage of foster homes in all parts of the country.
Finally back to where the whole story started, the Bodnariu family. The last information supplied by the father´s brother is interesting. As I have mentioned, in Norway it is by law forbidden for parents to use physical punishment. The Child Welfare Service is also by law obliged to check reports of physical punishment. What really sets of all alarms in the Child Welfare Service are reports of babies being manhandled. I do not know if you have heard of “Shaken Baby Syndrome”, but this is a set of serious injuries resulting from uncontrolled shaking of babies.
In this case the description was “shaken like a rag”, and even if the father contends this, the Child Welfare Service has to check the child and make sure that it has not received any injuries. As I understand neurological examinations have been made, and luckily no injuries were detected. The Child Welfare Service is obliged to react in the reported incidents, but what is more debatable is the severity of the reaction. I understand that the school director did not support taking custody of the two oldest children by fetching them in school (even if the director sent a message of concern to the Child Welfare Service). I also understand that the father has been actively engaged in social activities in the community and has been a member of the board of the local school. On the negative side is the mention that the grandmother (the mother´s mother) is a strongly religious lady with views on physical punishment not in accord with Norwegian law. (I often wish that some religious movements paid more attention to the scripture´s message of love, grace and forgiveness.) Engaging in a discussion will only lead to an escalation of the conflict. He should not give the Child Welfare Service a picture of a quarrelsome and uncooperative father. The baby has no injuries and he must try to negotiate the return of the children, if necessary with close follow up by the Child Welfare Service for a period. He might have overstepped, but he is a loving responsible father. He should try to get the support of the school director since the director can give a positive picture of him and the family. If it is not possible to get reach an acceptable agreement with the Child Welfare Service, try to find a moderator (Forum 18?) and if that is not accepted, get a good lawyer, run out the ‘big guns’ and pray for the best.