On July 26, 2014, Norwegian child psychologist Einar C. Salvesen was interviewed by Jolanta Miškinytė, a journalist from Lithuania. Miškinytė was writing about a specific case (N.N.) in Norway, where a child had been taken away from the mother. Salvesen was involved as a psychologist and witness in this particular case. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

Miškinytė: Would you be so kind to explain to me in a few sentences what your thoughts are regarding the N.N. case?

Salvesen: There is no reason to believe that the Norwegian law concerning child-rearing and child protection was not developed with the best intentions. However, the law far exceeds the competence of the expert. Therefore, the law results in a ‘machinery of evil’ in far too many instances.

N.N.’s case is just one example. The assessment of this case has serious flaws. Assumptions and conclusions are biased, one-sided and speculative, without alternative interpretations.

Just a few incidents about the mother and her interaction with her child are referred to, while a more complete picture of the mother herself is missing and not taken into account. From a narrow, factual base, serious conclusions about the mother as a person and her ability to raise children have been drawn.

Conclusions are coloured by narrow bourgeois or ideological standards for child-rearing. N.N.’s case is heartbreaking and very tragic, both for her and the child.

Miškinytė: What do you think about the quality of NCWS’ work concerning the removal of children from their families?

Salvesen: There is a lot to say about that. In a few words, I can say that when the actual abilities of parents concerning child-rearing practices are clarified, the child welfare office responsible for investigations frequently shows a striking lack of competence concerning ‘the human factor’.

There is a catastrophic lack of processing and dialogue skills, as well as poor ability to understand and clarify what is factual and what are interpretations.

In too many cases we observe that the ability and the character of a person are judged on a few incidents alone. Measured by the child-rearing standards of many other cultures, these incidents seem to be unclear and partly linked with ideological standards of child-rearing practice.

There are, of course, a number of cases where the system of protection works according to its intention, which is to secure the upbringing of children and to decide if they should stay with their families or be removed to institutions or foster homes. However, far too many children are removed from their parents based on false premises.

Miškinytė: What are the roots of this phenomenon, and how did this form of practice become legitimate in a civilised and democratic country such as Norway?

Salvesen: This is a very important and interesting issue. We observe that children are removed from their families by Norway’s child welfare system due to incompetence, a lack of ethical foundations, greed and subservience by people who are part of the control mechanism or institution involved.

This applies to child welfare offices in Norway; the first institution to assess or evaluate the situation of the child, and the ability of the parents. It applies to the expert, usually a psychologist, whose role it is to evaluate what has been done so far, as well as making a further assessment or re-evaluation of the case. It applies to the final institution of appeal, the county court system, which almost always bows down to the conclusion of the state-appointed expert. This even applies when the conclusion has been based on speculation, a lack of evidence, narrow standards for child-rearing, a lack of common sense and so on.

I have, as an expert witness for private entities, experienced cases where not only the child welfare office, but all the other control mechanisms that come into operation when the destiny of the child has to be decided – such as the expert report and the court – fail to meet simple scientific standards of clarification of the actual situation the child has in the family, therefore seriously violating justice standards and human rights.

I have experienced child welfare offices that have become bureaucratic and authoritarian systems of experts following narrow and ideological standards for child-rearing practices who, with a striking lack of empathy, humanity and common sense similar only to local political bureaus, act as a state within a state, and the division of power is fully set aside.

As one politician (the former director of a Norwegian child welfare office) once told me: “We are driving into the ditch both ways: removing the children we should not, while not removing the children we should!”

Miškinytė: How and why does this happen in Norway?

Salvesen: From my point of view, Norwegian social democracy has been deteriorating in quality due to a rich and strong state system, heavily influenced by socialist thinking, which, as we all know, involves state control rather than the driving force being the individual or the family.

The state has, due to oil income, become enormously rich compared with earlier years, enabling it to finance a bureaucracy of control, which has evolved gradually over a period of let’s say twenty years.

What made this development possible may also be connected to a population that, until recently, has had a rather naive confidence in the Norwegian state. Traditionally, what the state decided seemed to be good for us and served us well.

The serious flaws we see in Norway’s child welfare system may also partly be explained by the fact that child protection law, with its general concepts and good intentions, points toward very high standards concerning child-rearing practices in families.

This, linked with socialist philosophies of control and expertise, has enabled the state to develop a bureaucracy of ‘experts’ who are supposed to be able to assess or control the families’/caretakers’ ability to fulfil or not fulfil the standards set for child-rearing.

To further complicate the matter, the law, with its general terms, opens up several different interpretations of child-rearing standards for local offices, or even for a particular child welfare officer in charge of the case.

Miškinytė: We are frequently told that children are being taken away only from the families where healthy discipline is often similar to violence. Is that true, and are native families also encountering this phenomenon?

Salvesen: Native as well as immigrant families are suffering due to the incompetence of the Norwegian system in dealing with families where the parents use what we in Norway define as violence as part of their child-rearing practice, while parents of other cultures define their practice as a way of disciplining the child. I have experienced cases where there has been no discussion, no dialogue process and no qualified supervision of the parent concerning their child-rearing practices before they removed the child from the family.

[Photo: / CC0 Creative Commons]