In 2016, Björn Korf, a Christian radio station manager at ERF Vienna, interviewed a former Norwegian headmistress who worked at a public school in Norway. For fear of further persecution, she has decided to remain anonymous. Here is the transcript from their conversation:

Björn Korf: Tell us a little more about your perspective. You were kind of criticising the child welfare services, Barnevernet. What have you observed?

Headmistress: Well, before my own experience with the system I thought the CWS system was working well, that they really were protecting children and only made an intervention with a family when it was really needed. Then, while working as a headmistress, Barnevernet suddenly came for a meeting and told me that five children would be taken away from their parents. This came as a shock because we had received no questions from Barnevernet beforehand and we didn’t have the chance to tell them our story – how we were looking at the children and how they were – so this was really shocking. I tried to make them extend the process and do some investigation. I wanted to tell them our story and contact other institutions that might give documentation that could help the parents, because I knew the kids were OK. The parents were from Afghanistan and the children were born in Norway. They had some problems, because this was a very small place and they were the first foreign family ever to live there. So, yes, the children had some challenges, but psychologically, socially and emotionally, I had no worries about them. And, then, when I was asking critical questions and really trying to slow the process down, Barnevernet really attacked me and tried to get rid of me. In fact, I was put on leave, two days later, while they were kind of investigating whether I had made any mistakes. This is how it started, anyway.

Björn Korf: How did the process continue from there?

Headmistress: Well, the children were taken. I had organised some of the teachers to accompany them in the cars. This was my worst day ever. I was putting some clothes into plastic bags… changing clothes we had at school, because of course the parents didn’t know anything and hadn’t thought anything. Three of the children were at school, so we had three of the children, and the babies were at home. They were taken on the same day at the same time, so this was their “action” is what they call it.

So, the three children went away in one car each. I didn’t know where they went, everything was very secret. They went away, and I know that for three months the parents didn’t have the possibility to even talk to them on the phone. After three months they met at a gathering for two hours, then several months later, again, another gathering, always with guards and always just for a couple of hours. Always with directions from the CWS not to talk about the case; that means not even trying to explain to the kids what’s happening. They were also told not to show too much emotion, not to make the children cry and so on, because if they did this would worry the children and be an example of their incompetence as serious or responsible parents.

Björn Korf: What reason was given? Why did they take the children? Did you hear anything?

Headmistress: Every time I asked them, they told me, “No, this is none of your business. This is a matter of confidentiality.” They gave us the impression that the parents had done something really serious, and that was the reason. At the same time I just couldn’t believe it because the children were normal, and I know children from experience, both professionally and as a mother. If something serious like violence or sexual abuse was happening I would see that and the symptoms. So I immediately understood that something was wrong. I thought it was a big mistake that had happened and later I found out that this mistake was not a singular example, but really the tendency in the CWS’ work in Norway. So many families tell the same story and I had reason to believe that this was a kind of systemic error, not just a single case.

Björn Korf: And, then you started to basically criticise the system, and from that you lost your job?

Headmistress: Well, when they came to my office two days before the “action”, and I understood that they would in no way stop the process I contacted a lawyer in Oslo because I did not trust the local lawyers to be good enough. My mistake was not keeping the parents anonymous. So by telling the lawyer, who I knew had this rule of confidentiality, I was breaking this rule by telling the lawyers the parents’ names, even if, of course, the lawyers had the same rule of confidentiality. This was my mistake, and that’s what Barnevernet used to try to fire me.

So I was put on leave, and for two months the police were investigating me. I was not charged, and I didn’t have a fear of anything. I got something like a warning, but it was not enough to lose my job, so I came back and continued working as a teacher, and then my employer tried to find other reasons to get rid of me. Like, my new headmaster told my colleagues to write down any mistakes that I made. I remember I was coming in late, ten minutes, and a colleague was writing it down to deliver it to the headmaster. If I said things during the lesson that were somehow controversial, the children reported it at home, and then the complaints came. It happened twice. The small things they tried to put together, it didn’t work, it was not enough, and I had a good lawyer.

In the end they had to pay me to quit, so they paid me half a year’s salary almost – half a million krone – and I accepted this, because by then the situation was that it was not possible for me to work with the children. The relationship between me and the children was destroyed, really. They were in a dilemma of who to believe: me or their parents? Because it was really me against the whole village, kind of, and because of the others at work. So it was not possible to continue working.

This was all because of a single case, because I was then too scared to continue helping the family. It was really a massive abuse of power that I felt. In all my body I was really shocked and scared and afraid for my own children. Standing alone like that, it made me not strong enough to continue helping the Afghan family. But my mother worried about them and wanted to help them, and she started talking to the father and gradually I came back on track. So my mother and I have been kind of a support group for the family now for two years. And together with that I am known to other parents on the internet and I met some of them, and am talking a lot to many of them on Skype and so on, and have given free therapy for some and I’ve been making some videos.

I want normal people to understand what I did not: that the system is not working for the children, but for itself. And that children are abused, and it’s the CWS system that’s really hurting the children and not their parents. Of course parents make mistakes, and some of them may not be competent enough to have the full responsibility, but at the same time what I see is that people seem very honest in talking about their mistakes, and they change. They get an education and jobs, they quit using drugs, they find better friends, and they really become very good parents, as I see it.

And, at the same time, I want to say that even if the parents are really in trouble, a reaction like this, as we see in almost all cases – the total isolation of the kids, and no normal gatherings; these few hours, sometimes in strange places, like shopping centres, or offices – it’s so insane. It’s so unprofessional to organise the gatherings, the social contact between the parents, like this, whatever has happened. That’s not an excuse for how bad the parents are. The system is supposed to be professional, to take care of the kids, and what I see is the complete opposite. And, it really upsets me. I just swallow my fear as much as I can and continue, because too few people in Norway hear that. Most people keep quiet, they are afraid themselves, and at the same time it’s just not possible for me not to do anything.

Björn Korf: We know about the Bodnariu case which is going around the world, especially through the internet. What we have learnt so far is that the whole thing basically started with one of the girls, I think she was eight or nine years old, signing a Christian song in school and the teacher, or maybe even the leader of the school, got suspicious about it and called the CWS. Why would a teacher ever do that?

Headmistress: Well, what I know from my own experience is that the school system and also the kindergartens they quickly make contact with Barnevernet when they are worried, and from my own experience I understand this as a plus to the system. This is how it should be, of course, if a teacher really is worried. It should be possible to discuss it with other professionals. At the same time, I think it is so strange not to talk to the parents in the first place, because what we see is that instead of talking to the parents about what’s worrying the school, or the teachers, they go directly to Barnevernet and this is a lack of competence when it comes to communication and relations, and that’s a bad problem in the schools in Norway.

When it comes to religion, I also know that in this very secular society people are prejudiced against Christians. Many really think that Christianity indoctrinates kids, and well, to some extent they may be right. I personally know it from the inside. I’m a Christian myself, and of course I sometimes ask myself: do I remember to say that this is what I believe? Most people in Norway don’t believe in the same way. Of course, indoctrination can be irrelevant and criticised, but taking away the children for such reasons is really just insane. It has nothing to do with professionality at all. This is what we see: instead of an investigation they take the children, and this is what makes the people of Norway afraid because you really don’t have a chance. They take the children and nine out of ten children never come back.

Björn Korf: What we see on the internet are a lot of stories from migrant families, and you even said yourself this first case you ever encountered was a family from Afghanistan. Are there also stories from, let me put it this way, ‘normal Norwegian families’ where kids have been taken away? Are Norwegians also afraid of Barnevernet?

Headmistress: Yes, maybe a little less so than foreigners, but we are also afraid. There are so many people being investigated each year, and this process is enough to scare people because they have to go to meetings, and meet these people, and many of them really have a great deal of power. You don’t feel very confident coming into that office. You really know this is dangerous for you and your children, and the case workers I have met really communicate this. It’s like, you can believe that they kind of enjoy the power they have, because they really have enormous power compared to their educational level, which is very low. These people would never have the chance to have personal power like that in any other job except from the CWS system.

Björn Korf: Do they also visit families at home to do these investigations?

Headmistress: Yes. They are increasing the numbers of children taken based on emergency measures, without warning, but they also are taking children after years of investigation. I know a family that was followed for up to eight years and then the children were taken. I know a mother who had three visits a day for six weeks. So this is another form of terror, because the children in these families become very afraid.

[Photo: Pixabay.com / CC0 Creative Commons]