Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Barnevern- Friend or Foe?

"Angry Boy" (Sinnetaggen) statue at the Vigeland Park in Oslo. All children in Norway are protected under the law. Photo: Outi N.

" They came like dacoits and kidnapped our child!" Mumbled the old man.

His grey eyes were clouded with age and dismay, his wrinkled hands waved in despair as if he was still trying to come to terms with this reality.
He was talking about the Child Welfare Department in Norway who had taken his grandson just a few days earlier in a case that was widely covered in the Indian media, as the family is NRI ( non resident Indian), living in Norway.
The family was clearly disturbed by the incident, the uncle of the child and the father and mother sat there numb with shock.  I was there to interview them. I had been contacted by an Indian news channel called Times Now. However, I'm not going to go into details about this case as I don't have the full details. The Child Welfare Department, whom I did contact to get a statement declined to comment on the case as they are bound by the confidentiality clause.

I also happen to work part time as an interpreter and most of the cases I'm assigned to are for Barnevern, so I get a good insight into how the system works. Much has been written about the scepticism, fear and mistrust among immigrant families regarding the Barnevern in Norway and many of the things the above mentioned family said, is nothing new to my ears.

Most immigrants believe that the Child Welfare Department is merely looking for an excuse to take their children away from them. The truth couldn't be further from this.  I decided to blog about it, as a general post, hoping it will dispel some of the misconceptions and  misconstrued notions about the Child Welfare Department  that a lot of NRI's other immigrants have.

 My experience as an interpreter is that Barnevern stretches itself far to co- operate with the parents when they receive a message from someone (usually the kindergarten or the school) about their concerns for a child's welfare. The concern can be of these types.

1.The child is being neglected (not proper hygiene, enough food or the parents are not able to pay the rent or give the child a stable home etc.)
2. If the child is being physically or mentally abused.
3. If the parents have had a conflicted relationship where one of the spouses has used violence and they have a child who might have witnessed it.
4. If the child has a disability or has difficulty at school.

The procedure is that they call the parents and ask to come for a talk, visit the family and start an investigation, which under the law they are obliged to do so, even if it's a false alarm.
Most families perceive this investigation as a violation of their privacy and resent the implication that they are not good parents, even if that is the case. Some are openly hostile while others merely view them with cold suspicion and become non- cooperative.
Sometimes they ask me for advice and since I'm not supposed to get involved in any case, I usually just smile and say that I cannot comment on such things. But in this blog post I could certainly give my opinion.
Norwegians like to co- operate and families that accept help and suggestions ( it can be a course,
guidance through a therapist or other ways of helping the family) and establish a good rapport with their consultants mostly get their cases closed. In my experience I have seen only a few cases where the child has been taken into the custody of the Child welfare department but in such cases, the parents maybe suffering from mental illness or have drug or alcohol problems or have so many children that it becomes difficult for them to give them the necessary care.
A few cases have been written about in India and my impression is that many people in India view the Child Welfare Department as an oppressive system that takes children away from their parents.
The truth is our way of bringing up children and methods used for disciplining children is outdated and not allowed here. Corporal punishments are banned here and even pinching of the ears or a light push or slap is considered an act of violence against  the child. This concept is often hard for many Indian parents to wrap their heads around and they continue to discipline their children like they did in India.

I think it's important for families who move here to know about these things and respect the law here. Just as they make an effort to learn the language and integrate in the society, it's just as important to know how to raise your child in Norway. I think the Barnevern is a helper, a guardian of the children. They can make great friends and formidable foes, so it really is up to the family if they view them as a friend or foe.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hei Saroj,
    Nice little blog leveraging your experience offering expert advice as you got the unique opportunity to see both sides of the coin. Lucky you, for you have an escape avenue as you only have to 'interpret'

    The folk coming from India(discounting the ones already settled here and those who are without a proper legal status), just as the Norwegian folk, have a plausible respect and basic awareness towards Law-of-the-Land.
    They would be more than happy to cooperate, willingly participate and readily accept suggestions/help provided to better the environment for their child's development. For that matter, which 'sane parent' would avoid such a help.
    Child Care for a caring parent is not a nerve wreaking concept as the Equations of Time and Space that involve unwrapping of basic understanding of science concepts.

    Even in India, physical and mental abuse of children and corporal punishment is legally prohibited.
    The difference is in the way it is enforced and practiced in India. It is done in the backdrop of 'Indian Culture'. No where it can be found that 'Indian Culture / way of up-bringing children' advocates physical/mental abuse and corporal punishment either in Legal or in Spiritual form. I am sure that you have heard and agree that Children are equated to God in Indian Culture. So Child Discipline is implemented in Letter and Spirit in India.
    Well this is 'outdated or not', is an individual's perception.
    So no comments.

    Just as the 'invandrer' are expected to learn the customs of the land, it would receive astoundingly high degree of accolades and participation if proactivism is displayed and practised in making them aware of these customs by respective law-enforcement agencies of which Barnevern is a member.

    Why is Barnevern in the news only when it has taken away a child from the parents ? Why not when it has aided a family retain/provide better thriving environment to a child along with the parents ? I am sure that there would be such cases as well, those should also receive their share of publicity, which can successfully portray Barnevern as a helper and guardian.

    A widened horizon accrued by dealing with many different types of cases would be necessary to frame rigid ideas about the resentment arising in the recipient group of parents/guardians. Views from just a handful of them have the potential to tilt the bias in favour of one party depriving the other.

    I hope the length of my comment does not overshadow your blog on this title.

    Srinivas D
    Ps: I am posting my comment as 'Unknown' because I do not have an id on WordPress, LiveJournal, OpenId or other profiles listed.

  3. Hi Saroj, Came to your blog after a very long time and this post made me think about all the reports I have read in Indian newspapers about the Norwegian child welfare department regarding a few cases of Indian parents. I understand Indian parents see their kids as their sole property (sorry to be using a harsh word but its true) and they can't tolerate anyone else making a judgement on them. I have seen far more child abuse cases in India and can understand how such parents would be behaving when a government authority intervenes. I wish more parents understand the welfare of their own children.
    I wish the laws about child welfare are implemented in India too. Thanks for writing this post.