UNDER SURVEILLANCE

MEP Tomáš Zdechovský tells the tragic story of a baby who was ripped from her parents’ loving arms. To their pure delight, Maxine was born to the Ladická family in January 2015. But their joy sadly did not last long, as Zdechovský explains:

I have received several letters from people seeking my help in their cases involving children being taken away from their parents abroad. A Slovakian citizen and a Norwegian citizen naively asked NCWS for help and, like many others, became victims of the system. In March 2015, at two-and-a-half months old, Maxine, a fully breastfed baby, was torn away from her mother’s arms.

I was shocked by this case, but not surprised by its absurdity or by the nonsensical process used by NCWS to take children away for no good reason and without any prior warning. It is necessary to mention that the mother of the child, Sara, is deaf, which can in no way be a reason for taking a child away from her. The mother’s hearing impairment does not mean the child will have a worse upbringing, especially when the other parent has full hearing and is able to help with the upbringing, as in this case. It’s also worth noting that the mother was in the foster care system during her childhood.

Under surveillance

This tragic story began after the birth, when Maxine developed hepatitis. After she was released from the hospital everything seemed to be fine until NCWS entered the picture and offered its ‘help’. The parents made the terrible mistake of accepting this so-called help. NCWS started to visit their household regularly, which, to cut a long story short, resulted in the eventual removal of their child.

The mother texted her partner, Andrej, that two women from NCWS had arrived unannounced. She had to wake up her ten-day-old baby. If it had happened once, it would not have mattered that much. It would be understandable if the social worker had come to check that everything was fine and then left. But later that evening, after Andrej had finished work, he received a phone call from an NCWS case worker. The intrusive woman asked why Sara had not opened the door for them. Andrej explained that Sara was deaf and could not hear the door, so the two women from NCWS waited for Andrej to come back from work at 11pm and visited the family again.

The day after that, a Saturday, more people from Barnevernet came to visit the family, first at around lunchtime and then again in the evening. This continued for the next few days. Eventually NCWS concluded that late-night visits were not necessary. However, its staff showed up very frequently and unexpectedly from then on.

I guess everyone understands that these regular visits were not at all pleasant because the family’s everyday life was being turned upside down with no serious issues uncovered. They never knew the day or the hour of the following visit from the social workers. But the worst was yet to come.

How NCWS wanted to ‘help’

One day at a meeting with child welfare offices, social workers came up with the idea to offer the Ladická family further ‘help’. This meant transporting the family to a special house for families in Gjøvik, which is approximately a one-hour drive from Lillehammer, where the family lived, and approximately one-and-a-half hours from where the father worked. They were to be observed by cameras for three months under the supervision of a special team, while living among other families.

NCWS gave the family an ultimatum: either choose Gjøvik or lose their baby. NCWS mentioned a third option, which involved taking a special parenting course. However, they did not get a chance to take the course and were blackmailed into choosing to go to Gjøvik or lose Maxine. The social worker finally mentioned another option: home visits.

A debate lasting two and a half hours followed. After this, the parents flatly refused to go to Gjøvik. The father said that his mum (Maxine’s grandmother Janka) had handed in her resignation at work and intended to help the young family. Sara informed NCWS of their decision, and later that day NCWS texted to say they wanted to video the mother and her baby together.

Minimal eye contact

At first, Sara and Andrej were recorded during a ten-minute video. Filming took place in a very small and claustrophobic room, which was very uncomfortable, particularly for little Maxine. Andrej was supposed to change Maxine’s nappy during this time. Apparently, Maxine maintained “minimal eye contact” with her parents during those ten minutes.

After being filmed the parents waited a couple of days for feedback from the social worker. A message came from NCWS stating that the parents and their baby had to go back for another meeting. The parents went with their daughter, as always, but this time there were two plain-clothes policemen at the entrance wearing name tags and badges. At that moment Andrej realised the situation was serious, and this was confirmed at the meeting. They took baby Maxine away without any reason or justification. The policemen disappeared to an unknown destination with their baby.

NCWS later informed the parents that their baby would be put into foster care. The parents had no right to know where their daughter was, or with whom. They could submit an application for visits to the court, but they were not allowed to see their baby before the end of the trial. The reason given for taking Maxine away was the lack of eye contact in the video and the mother’s childhood, which was perceived to be reflected in the mother’s parenting abilities. By far the most significant reason for taking Maxine away was that the child’s parents and grandmother were thinking of moving to Slovakia. Yes, that was the most serious concern for NCWS!

A normal human being would never imagine that this could happen in what is meant to be a civilised country. Have we gone back to the days when human rights were weak and injustice prevailed?