Opening of Expert Meeting on Good Parenting

Oslo 4. November

Good morning and a warm welcome to all of you!

You are all important resources and experts in your field, and I am very glad that you could find the time to be here with us today.

Good parenting is a subject of great importance and priority to this government.

My ambition and hope is that you will have fruitful discussions and dialogue today here at Lysebu. I cannot be with you the whole day, but my State Secretary, Kai-Morten Terning, will follow your discussions with great interest.

I have invited you to this meeting for several reasons:

  • The Norwegian government wants to take part – both nationally and globally – in promoting the importance of good parenting to combat abuse and violence against children.
  • We want to underline the importance of cooperation, discussions and debate, and the sharing of knowledge and competence across borders.
  • It is important to map out where we need more knowledge and research.
  • Sharing good practice and finding the main challenges the next five years is a priority.

I am delivering a White Paper on family policies to the parliament next year. I hope to receive some input and inspiration from you, in the on-going work of finding where we need to strengthen our efforts and strategies, for the best interests of the child.

I strongly believe that international co-operation – as well as working together across different research disciplines and organizational environments – will lead to a better understanding of the complex issue of good parenting.

I am therefore glad that we have with us today:

-        a special representative from the UN

-        a representative from the Council of Europe

-        the Paniamor foundation in Costa Rica

-        and the Child Study Center in the US.

I am also very glad to see many Norwegian experts from the professional field, and organizations that are important in assessing good parenting policies.

This is a great opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of these important issues.

This year, and this month especially, we are celebrating the UN convention on the rights of the child.

We will highlight everything that has been done the last 25 years in Norway. To a large extent, the convention has set the agenda for Norway’s policy concerning children and their families.

The convention is important for the children’s Ombudsman, research communities, local and national governments and NGOs.

It establishes a common ground for dialogue and action, as well as being an essential tool for cooperation for everyone working with children and young people.

And most importantly, the convention has led to considerable progress: we hear the children’s voices a lot better today, compared to when the convention was ratified by Norway 25 years ago.

All this is well worth a celebration. But we cannot rest.

As long as many children are still being beaten, assaulted and abused, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We cannot rest until the rights of all children are fully respected!

Preventive efforts and good parenting

I strongly believe in preventive efforts. Successful prevention demands that we are willing to invest time and effort without immediate, tangible results. We need to accept that the goals of our work will be reached in the future – not tomorrow.

In my view, good parenting is the most effective preventive strategy. This is why I am especially concerned with educating and helping within the family.

Parental support is so important because  the parents and the family are the most important framework for the child. The parent-child relation is stronger than all other relationships. We need to invest in the family to make parents secure and confident – this is the way to build homes where the children feel secure and confident as well.

When parents have difficulties or conflicts, the child is always affected. I know that you will dig very deep into this issue later today, as it will be directly addressed in some of the presentations.

Good and stable parental relationships provide the best conditions for the upbringing for our children. It is a major social and political responsibility to ensure that more people are able to preserve a stable family life.

The support of good family relationships is considered to be a responsibility for the society as well. Because it concerns children's living conditions in general, and also because family breakups may have negative consequences for the community at large.

As an example, there are social and economic challenges  and sickness leaves related to family breakups. In addition to this, there are significant personal consequences for those directly involved.

In our recent budget proposal, we strengthen the family counselling service. The Family Counselling Service is a low-threshold, state financed service. It is primarily aimed at families with relational problems.

The services offered by the offices include counselling, guidance and therapy. This is offered to couples, families or individuals that experience difficulties, conflicts or crises within the family.

The service is free of charge, and no referral from medical or other authority is required. There is at least one, and most often several, family counselling agencies in every county.

Parents with challenges need help and support in being good  mothers and fathers for their children. Efforts that strengthen the interaction and emotional connection between children and their parents can prevent neglect and mistreatment, and hopefully also prevent violence and abuse. By helping the families, we help the children.

A new service for preventing harm against young children in Norway is that all pregnant women now will be asked routine questions about violence and abuse in the home-environment. A new electronic health card will also make it easier to follow up on difficult problem cases.

Another central goal for me is to be able to prevent violence in families with minority background. The International Child Development Programme (ICDP),  has been very successful in helping minority families in good parenting.

I met a Somali mother. She had almost had her child taken into care by the child welfare system because of his behavioural problems, especially in school. But fortunately, wise and sensitive teachers gave her advice and guidance on how you can bring up a child without corporal discipline. She was so grateful to learn other, more sensitive ways to handle her boy. I will never forget her story.

Violence and abuse

By fighting violence and abuse against children and young people, we can prevent dramatic  consequences for individuals.  Physical and psychological abuse can mark a child for life.

It is a big public health problem, and also a generational problem. Violence and abuse have a tendency to occur in the same families through several generations. It takes time and effort to put such destructive childhood experiences right.

Early intervention and risk protection is essential to break these negative patterns. By fighting violence and abuse against children and young people, we can save communities from great social costs.

In a few weeks time, I will launch a new action plan to intensify the efforts against violence and abuse – called A good childhood lasts a lifetime. It combines the joint effort of four ministries. In addition to my ministry, my colleagues in the Ministry of Education,  Justice and  Health will work to prevent violence and sexual abuse against children and young people. Efforts to fight violence and abuse against children demand cooperation, competence and willingness to act!

Everywhere I go, I tell people that work with children and young people this:

when stories of violence, neglect and sexual abuse come to the surface, this is not a private matter!

The law is clear, we must act! Our concerns must be sent to the right authorities.

Competence in the services

Signs of violence and abuse are not always easy to detect! It is crucial that everyone working with children has sufficient competence. They need to see the child, talk to the child and be able to identify behavioural changes that can indicate that a child is exposed to violence, neglect or sexual abuse.

Violence and sexual abuse are still, to a certain extent, taboo subjects in Norwegian society. Both for adults and children t is difficult to talk about, especially if the abuse takes place in the family.

Those who meet children in the course of their work have a responsibility to recognise and help children in difficult situations. In order to help, one must be able to listen to the child. Safe adults are adults that can handle difficult topics. Safe adults have the courage to take painful stories seriously. Safe adults are ready to help children who carry dark secrets.

As a government, our responsibility is to ensure these safety nets. We are launching nationwide training programs on how to talk to children in a sensitive way about delicate matters like abuse, violence and maltreatment.

This way we try to assist and help all employees who meet children and young people through their work. Social workers have strongly told us about the need to improve their skills and competence in this field.

We also need to increase the expertise on treating children’s traumas. Giving the right help, and care of high quality for children and young people as early as possible,  regardless of where they live in Norway, is a challenge. We have come a long way the last decade (ten years).

We have established 10 Children’s Houses, which gives medical assessments and conducts formal interviews of abused children. These centres are extremely important in uncovering abuse in itself, for making prosecution easier, and to offer professional help for the individual child.

We also need to get children themselves engaged. From an early age, children should be educated about the difference between healthy and unhealthy physical contact with others; they ought to be informed about which rights they have, and be taught the importance of speaking out.

Then – hopefully – children who carry painful secrets will come forward. Our long term goal is to prevent violence and abuse altogether.

To achieve this ambitious aim, we need to leave behind what is left of society’s taboos and prejudices. We need to use the shared effort of the voluntary and public sectors. Multi-sector collaboration is vital in this respect, and so is good guidance and follow-up of parents.

Finally:

We are all responsible for protecting children from harm and injustice. All children deserve a childhood they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

A good childhood lasts a lifetime!