‘Norway took my child because of pretty dress’

A Lithuanian mother living in Norway who had her two children taken into care has speculated that social services intervened because of her daughter was dressed too prettily.

'Norway took my child because of pretty dress'
Airida Pettersen with her son in April. Photo: Facebook

Airida Pettersen, who moved to Norway in 2008 after marrying a Norwegian man, is one of several hundred immigrants to have had their children taken into care by Norway's Child Protection Service, or Barnevernet. 

“I dress my daughter in a pretty dress and make her comb her hair,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Lithuania. “They look at me like I'm from a Third World country. In my country if you don't take care of yourself you don't get a husband.”

She told AP that she had yet to receive an explanation from the CPS as to why her children were taken. 

The children have now been reunited with their mother through the intervention of a relative and are now living in Lithuania's capital Vilnius 

The child protection services in Stavanger, Norway did not comment of the specific case, but cited cultural differences when speaking to AP.
“Very many people come from other cultures with no government intervening in their domestic affairs. Then they come to Norway and the government intervenes in the family and they have no experience with this,” said Gunnar Toresen, head of the Child Protection Service in Stavanger.

Pettersen's case is not unique. According to the latest available statistics 6,737 children were taken into care in 2012, some 1,049 were immigrants or born to immigrant parents.

The actions of the Norwegian authorities have causes diplomatic disputes with a number of countries including India and Russia.

Czech president Miloš Zeman went as far as to compare Norway's foster care system to Nazi Germany's Lebensborn adoption system, expressing his anger at two Czech boys forcibly taken into care. 

Norway's Minister for children and families Solveig Horne insists that Norway is acting in the best interest of children.
“There are some culture differences between families coming to Norway,” Horne said. 

 “All children who come to Norway have the same rights as Norwegian children … If they are neglected or abused or if there is violence in the family the (child protection) agency should protect the children first of all.”


Norway child abuse victims were let down by authorities: investigation

The head of a committee appointed by the Norwegian government agency to investigate historical child abuse cases says that victims of serious abuse were let down by welfare services.

Norway child abuse victims were let down by authorities: investigation
Ann-Kristin Olsen. File photo: Ole Gunnar Onsøien/NTB scanpix

Many cases in which children were subjected to violence, sexual abuse and serious neglect could have been avoided, says the leader of the government-appointed Child Abuse Investigation Committee (Barnevoldsutvalget).

Ann-Kristin Olsen told broadcaster NRK that she believes many children have been failed by authorities.

“We have uncovered a massive failure in the system. But ‘system’ is not a sufficient word, because what we have seen in these cases is that children have been failed,” Olsen said.

Olsen told the broadcaster that the committee had made several discoveries in the 20 cases of violence, sexual abuse and serious neglect it had investigated.

READ ALSO: Norwegian county 'failed to protect 90 percent of children' under its watch

Discoveries made by the committee include instances in which authorities were too slow to uncover problems; diagnoses of conditions such as ADHD being given and treated without sufficient investigation of children’s behaviour; lack of communication with affected children; unreported breaks of the law; complaints from children of violence not being followed up when these were denied by parents; delayed or insufficient help given to children; and lack of serious attention given to parental risk factors such as histories of violence or drug abuse.

Serious warning signs were missed by authorities in several of the cases, according to Olsen.

“Social services were offered to the families, for example in the form of daycare, relief and economic support, but it often took several years to realise that the reason for these children’s problems was the serious violence they were subjected to at home,” she said.

The committee leader told NRK that she was most shocked by how little authorities actually spoke to children.

“The child is the best source for his or her situation. We found that many of the children had been given diagnoses, most commonly ADHD. But nobody asked why the children were behaving as they were, they just treated the diagnosis,” she said.

Olsen added that although she believed Norway’s child protection agencies to be doing a lot of good work, services have been found wanting in some serious cases.

READ ALSO: Child welfare or 'kidnapping'? Parental anguish in Norway

“The picture given by these cases are so bleak and dominated by children not receiving help, getting help too late, insufficient help or being left alone. In cases of severe abuse, the consequences for individual children are profound. Their childhoods – their whole lives, in fact – are destroyed by things a society like ours should be able to manage,” she said.

Changes proposed by Olsen’s committee include regional teams that can assist local authorities with serious cases; and more consultation and communication between different authorities such as schools, psychiatrists and the Child Welfare Services (Barnevernet).

Olsen also wants Barnevernet to be unable to dismiss any case without first speaking to the relevant child or making a home visit, or to justify not having done this.