Keeping the children safe: a shared responsibility

We all want the same thing – to ensure that all children grow up in a secure environment free from violence. Yet, explaining child protection measures can be tricky.

By:

Solveig Horne, Norwegian Minister of Children and Equality (Progress Party)

Elisabeth Aspaker, Norwegian Minister of EEA and EU Affairs (Conservative Party)               

A child welfare case concerning a Norwegian-Rumanian family has been at the heart of a growing international campaign against Norway. The rhetoric has included allegations of child kidnapping, genetic programming and religious persecution, as well as accusations that the Norwegian Child Welfare Services is somehow above the law. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Like Romania and many other countries, Norway has incorporated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into national legislation, and the Convention is given priority through the Human Rights Act. That means that all children are accorded equal rights regardless of gender, culture, socio-economic status, nationality, religion or residential status. The key principle of “the best interest of the child” is enshrined in the Norwegian Constitution, section 104. We have also recently ratified the Hague Convention 1996 on parental responsibility and protection of children which enters into force on July 1st, 2016. 

In accordance with international law and national legislation, the best interest of the child is always the primary concern of the Norwegian child welfare services. The rights, responsibilities and obligations of parents are also considered. Family ties and continuity in the child’s upbringing are very important principles. The underlying assumption is that children should grow up with their parents. 

The main objective of the child welfare services is therefore to assist children and families that are struggling. In fact, the majority of the cases are voluntarily assistive measures for children and families in the home, for example, advice and guidance on parental practices, kindergarten, counselling, financial aid, etc.  

However, there are exceptions. Sometimes a child may have to be placed outside the home, either as an emergency measure or through a care order. Only a County Social Welfare Board or the Court may issue a care order, not the child welfare service. These are independent and impartial decision-making authorities led by judges. A care order can only be issued if a child has been subject to serious neglect, maltreatment or abuse. The care order must also be necessary and in the child's best interest. A family’s religious beliefs are never valid reason for removing a child from its parents, but violence could be. Corporal punishment is against the law in Norway. 

Placing a child outside the home without the parents’ consent is always a measure of last resort. It is worth noting that a recent Council of Europe report shows that Norway is in the low range of countries with respect to the number of children in alternative care. 

Of course, no system is perfect. That is why the Norwegian child welfare system has built in checks and balances to make sure allegations of wrongdoing are investigated. If the allegations are found to be correct, sanctions will be implemented. 

In care order cases parents are entitled to a due process, including a lawyer paid for by the government, the right to be heard and the right to appeal the decision of the County Social Welfare Board to the Courts. Parents can once a year file for a revocation of the care order. 

In December 2015, the Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion sent new guidelines to the municipalities on how to handle child welfare cases when children have ties to other countries. The circular makes it clear that the child welfare service must always try to contact the child's family abroad before initiating a care order case. 

The Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion is responsible for general child welfare policy, but individual child welfare cases are handled by local child welfare services in the municipalities and through the Norwegian legal system. Pressure from national politicians, outside governments, local or international campaigners will have no bearing on an individual case.

Child welfare cases deal with the most private and painful moments of family life. Strict confidentiality regulations prohibit the child welfare services from disclosing any details to the public. The complexity of these cases is therefore seldom grasped. Out of respect for the children’s right to privacy, we should all refrain from passing judgement when we do not possess the whole truth.

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