The UN rates Norway, the first country to appoint a Children’s Ombudsman, as one of the best countries for a child to grow up in. And yet, according to many Norwegian experts, its child protection system is “dysfunctional” – too many children, they say, are taken into care without good reason.
The conviction of a top child protection psychiatrist for downloading child abuse images is now raising further serious questions.
It was a winter’s day, some years ago, when two child welfare specialists – a female psychologist and a male psychiatrist – knocked on the door of a small modern wooden house on the edge of the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
A lively little girl opened the door and greeted the strangers warmly.
But the girl’s mother, Cecilie – who understood the purpose of their visit – was much less pleased to see them.
“I was very scared. I didn’t want them in my house in the first place,” she says, remembering that day.
“I was really nervous that they will find something wrong. I know this is how the Child Protection Services take away children.”
The experts had been appointed to write a report for a family court hearing which would decide the little girl’s future.
Their visit followed years of concern by the Child Protection Service that Cecilie – a single mother – wasn’t looking after her daughter properly, and had rejected offers of help.
That day, she was right to be nervous.
The experts were highly critical of what they observed at her home.
They wrote in their report that “there was no natural flow to the interaction” between mother and daughter.
They said Cecilie struggled to keep the house in order. And they commented on other details that Cecilie believes they misinterpreted.
“Everything is twisted in a negative way,” she says.
“This was not so long after Christmas, and in the local store I had found some gingerbread which they were selling really cheap, for one Norwegian krone. So I bought it just for fun, so that my daughter and I could make some gingerbread men together as an activity.
“But apparently they thought my financial situation was very bad, because I had bought it after Christmas… How can you say a person is poor just because they buy cheap gingerbread?”
“When I saw the report, I was so devastated. It was just all this negativity – negative, negative, negative. There was nothing positive at all.”
The experts’ report – based on information from many health and childcare professionals as well as their own observations – concluded that the little girl’s “development would be limited” if she remained with her mother.
The report said: “This is because the mother does not recognise her daughter’s basic needs and does not perceive the mental harm she may have suffered” while in her mother’s care.
Since then, Cecilie – a lean, anxious-looking, blonde woman now in her 50s – has only seen her daughter seven times.
“I have not been able to follow her development,” she says. “I just lost my daughter’s childhood. I don’t expect really to see her until she’s an adult.”
The recommendation to put the girl into long-term foster care was approved at Oslo District Court. The report’s co-authors attended as witnesses.