Norway’s Child Welfare System – Counting their way to terror

This is last Saturday’s headline, from an article in a Norwegian newspaper:

“A check-list is determining whether Barnevernet (Norway’s Child Welfare System), removes a child from its home or not. THEY COUNT THEIR WAY TO THE RIGHT CONCLUSION.

This is a standard form that calculates the risk-factors and preventive/resilience-factors.

Just add up the ticks, and if you have enough, take the children away for good. If not, exaggerate, fabricate or invent something, that means you can add more ticks, and then take the children away, or convince yourself to keep them for good. This takes all the stress and responsibility away from case workers, and very often leads to the complete destruction of a perfectly normal family.

And, this is just one part of the system that makes Barnevernet a dysfunctional, family destroying business, that has devastating consequences for 1000’s of children growing up in Norway today.

Some people wonder why other people do evil things. Many experiments have been conducted in this area over the years.

Put someone in a dysfunctional system, indoctrinate them with many unscientific methods, bring in so called “experts” to confirm and support the system and hey presto, evil personified in a system, the moral ground is gone, and love and empathy have given way to cold hearts and torment. Good people sadly, can do evil things with this set up.



The following is the English translation of the article written by Frida Holsten Gullestad, Trondheim, and published in Klassenkampen, January 27th 2018:

A checklist is determining whether the Norwegian Child Welfare Services removes the child from its home or not:


CRITICAL: If you are divorced, unemployed or on social security, the likelihood that you may lose your child in a child welfare case increases. Norwegian child welfare services has introduced a standardised checklist that researchers are highly critical of.

Written by Frida Holsten Gullestad, Trondheim
Published in KLASSEKAMPEN, January 27th 2018

Today, 58% of the country’s municipal child welfare services use a checklist when they assess a message of concern, the so-called Kvello model.

The risk is that the customised solutions are lost, researchers from NTNU believe.

“We have not observed that there has been a critical discussion about the introduction of this model, it has just surfaced and started to be used to a large extent,” says Gro Ulset, researcher at the Regional Knowledge Centre for Children and Young People – Mental Health and Child Welfare Services at Norwegian Technical University of Science (NTNU).

With the checklist, the child is assessed based on a variety of risk factors, such as whether he or she is delayed in developing, impulsive, shy, possesses mental or severe somatic problems, has been bullied, has been adopted, or lost siblings.

All of the child’s family members are also assessed by the use of factors such as mental illness, child abuse in their own childhood, violence, previous crime and substance abuse, unemployment or on social security, whether they are divorced, have moved a lot, or have an unclarified residence permit.

The logic behind counting

Based on the answers, the caseworkers can count their way to the procedure that fits the situation. Some of the researchers‘ informants say that the number of crosses affects the outcome.

If they get six to eight at risk factors, the answer will be a care order, i.e. the child is removed from the family and placed at an institution or in a foster home. Fewer crosses can lead to the child staying at home and that the family is offered relief measures.

The model also includes factors that should count for letting the child stay with its family, like when the child has hobbies, or the parents have a higher education and jobs, but these are far fewer than the risk factors.

“When we started this research project, we went to the child welfare centres and talked about “the Kids” and “the families”. We were instantly corrected into using the word “case” instead”, says Jens Røyrvik at NTNU Social Research.

He believes the effect of the checklists is that the caseworkers distance themselves more and more from the ones they are meant to help.

“They become more practitioners of procedures made elsewhere,” says Røyrvik.

Slaves of forms

The researchers believe there are several critical features connected to such a counting mentality. They fear that the use of checklists objectivises children and families. From being different people with different needs, they become comparable things.

These lists make it possible to document and create standardised procedures. Often, the checklist is integrated into a digital case processing, where one box has to be ticked before getting to the next, in a controlled sequence.

“Such a procedure may be straightforward in other fields, but not as straightforward in child welfare cases. Families are not equal, but they are made more similar when the caseworker relies on a template. The danger is that the overall view disappears – and hence the professional judgment,” says Ulset, supported by Røyrvik.

“This is a devaluation of the child welfare Profession,” he says.

Affects the result

The researchers fear that the use of such checklists will push the child welfare services towards using measures that easily show a statistically measurable effect. This will replace solutions that are adapted to the individual child, as it is difficult to prove the efficiency of such.

“In other research, former child welfare children have specifically pointed out that a child welfare employee going on a fishing trip with them was crucial. But it’s hard to prove that a fishing trip is decisive,” says Petter Grythen Almklov, who is currently working at Sintef Technology and Society.

The fear is that this model prefers standardised measures where the effect can be controlled. An example might be early intervention, i.e. taking a child away from the parents at an early stage.

“One can imagine that the threshold for care orders changes when the process is automated,” says Almklov.

Researchers think it would be beneficial to focus more on social and economic factors in the families and help solve them.

“When the economy in a family that is being investigated is very poor, it can have significant consequences and lead to conflicts and problems in many other arenas. The focus in the Kvello model is, however, primarily aimed at health risk identification and diagnosis,” says Ulset.

Easier for the caseworkers

In the interviews with researchers, several child welfare workers described a sense of relief by not having to carry personal responsibility for the measures, but could lean on a standardised procedure. Checklists make it seem possible to “measure” the child’s family situation and hence come to a “correct” conclusion.

The caseworkers say that they feel less personal responsibility and less mental stress because the procedure is done correctly. When facing the county governor’s supervision, which is often the driving force behind the use of this model, the child welfare services become less vulnerable to criticism.

“We are trying to give words to what’s lost,” Almklov says, claiming that resistance towards the use of checklists is often rejected as personal views and old habits.

“We need to provide more room for what is actually the option here, namely experience-based knowledge, expertise and a more comprehensive assessment of the family’s situation. Many people are worried that using such a model will lead to less and less of this needed space,” she says.

The fact that 58 percent of child welfare services have used the Kvello model without the central authorities initiating it, speaks for itself, says Kjetil Andreas Ostling, Deputy Director of the Children’s and Youth and Family Directorate.

“The checklist obviously shows a need out there to systematize and structure, but this has not been quality assured or evaluated well enough.”

Bufdir has recently received an evaluation of the Kvello model which points out some key weaknesses in the training and that there are no overviewing manuals.

“Here is a vulnerability. We see that it’s a need for more structured with implementation, training and maintenance of knowledge,” says Ostling. “In this respect, we are working on developing a national quality System.”

“Are researchers right to criticise such use of checklists?”

“The professional facility is based on solid knowledge. But they are right about the rig for implementation not being solid enough. In the future we will make sure to be more in control with this type of system,” says Ostling


Checklists in child welfare

In the last ten years, over half of the country’s municipal child welfare services have started to use standardised checklists to simplify their proceedings, the so-called Kvello model.

Researchers at NTNU Social Research and RBKU Midt have interviewed child welfare workers and prosecutors from eight municipalities in Norway, as part of an international project on objectivisation, measurement and standardisation in several areas of society.

The project has resulted in the book “The Need to Count”, published by Scandinavian Academic Press.