Tale/innlegg | Dato: 01.03.2019 | Barne- og likestillingsdepartementet
Av: Barne- og familieminister Kjell Ingolf Ropstad (Address to Heads of Mission resident in Oslo. 27 February 2019)
Your Excellences, ladies and gentlemen - good afternoon!
I am very pleased for the opportunity to address you on such an important topic as the Norwegian child protection system.
I believe that information and dialogue are key to understanding across cultures, and that we can avoid misunderstandings through communication.
The Child Welfare Act underlines that children should grow up with their parents. The Act places great importance on family ties and continuity in the child’s upbringing. As a representative of the Christian Democratic Party in Norway, I regard the family as one of the most important institution in our society, and will work to strengthen families. Parents and families in Norway are free to give their children the cultural and religious upbringing they choose, as long as it does not violate the child's rights.
Protecting children from harm is one of mine and the Government's main goals and responsibilities. Norwegian legislation provides safeguards for children in need. Our system is child-centric and views children as individuals who deserve the maximum respect. The system is both protective and supportive in its approach to children at risk; it provides a wide range of services and undertakes action when necessary.
The vast majority of measures offered in order to help the families, are voluntary assistive measures within the home. Placing a child in alternative care without the consent of the parents is always a measure of last resort. A child can only be placed in alternative care if it suffers neglect, violence or abuse. In addition, it is a requirement that assistive measures are considered not good enough to protect the child. Finally, a care order must be in the best interest of the child.
It is important to stress that only the County Social Welfare Boards are entitled to issue care orders. These Boards are impartial and independent state bodies led by a lawyer with competence at the same level as a judge. Parents have important legal rights in care order cases; they are entitled to free legal aid, a due process and they can appeal the Board's decision to the District Court. The child has the right to be heard in all the decisions that concern him or her.
With increased globalization and migration, more children and families with a foreign background are in contact with the Norwegian Child Welfare Service. This requires that the services understands cultural differences. I know that there has been instances where the communication between the families and Child Welfare Service could have been better. My goal is that the Child Welfare Service should be as diverse as the society it works in, and have greater competence and understanding of cultural differences.
The Child Welfare Act applies to all children in Norway, regardless of their status, nationality or citizenship. In Norway, there is zero tolerance for corporal punishment. Violence can never be justified or explained with cultural or religious differences.
For children placed in alternative care, the service is obliged to search for foster homes within the extended family and close relationships or at least aiming at finding foster homes that mirror the child's culture, religion and language. However, it is not always possible to achieve these goals due to difficulties in finding foster homes among ethnic minorities. We will work hard to recruit more foster homes with a diverse cultural background, and will look for possible partners in civil society to recruit families that can help children in need.
An independent board recently published a report where they looked into more than 100 cases where a child had been placed in alternative care. It showed that the situations leading to placing a child in alternative care were all grave, and that removal of the child from its family was necessary in order to protect the child. The report also shows that there is room for improvements and more efficient assistive measures in order to prevent placing children in alternative care.
Even though the legal framework is good, there is always room for improvements, particularly in how the legislation is exercised and how the child protection employees relates to different positions, cultures and practices. Increasing competence in the Child Welfare Service is therefore of great importance in our effort to improve our services.
Child welfare cases must be handled in accordance to Norwegian law. The Norwegian position is therefore that child welfare cases cannot be solved through bilateral agreements between states. We provide general information to the public including embassies, and have been clear about the fact that the Child Welfare Service cannot be instructed by the Ministry, nor can we as politicians or the Government intervene in an particular case. Neither can an embassy be party to the case in question. The embassies can however offer consular assistance in accordance to the Vienna Convention.
Since 2016 when Norway ratified The Hague Convention on protection of children, we have had a powerful tool for preventing and solving parental disputes and complex cross-border cases. This topic will be elaborated later in the seminar.
I cannot fail to mention the present cases handled by the European Human Rights Court. We take these proceedings very seriously. Whenever the European Court of Human Rights considers Norwegian practice, it is in many ways an evaluation of the Child Welfare System by an international court. It highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the Norwegian Child Welfare System, and thus enables us to develop and improve it.
Child protection cases contain many difficult dilemmas. Protecting children from neglect, maltreatment, violence and abuse, and securing their wellbeing is one of the most important tasks for my Government.
I hope that we can continue to strengthen dialogue and understanding on this topic going forward. Thank you for your attention!