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