The Norwegian government has introduced new guidelines for how local authorities should deal with cross-border child welfare cases. The move comes following a number of controversial cases that have led to angry protests around the world.
Norwegian embassies in several countries have faced a wave of demonstrations against Barnevernet. An anti-Barnevernet Facebook group, ‘Norway, give us back the children you stole', said that over 60,000 people have joined protests since January.
The movement began picking up steam after a case in which five children were forcibly removed from their Norwegian-Romanian parents for suspected physical violence. The protest quickly gained momentum, though, with a number of similar cases involving nationals of other countries and an international 'day of action' is planned for April 16th.
In an apparent response to the international criticism, the Norwegian government announced on Wednesday that it had released a circular to local authorities clarifying what it calls ‘child welfare cases across national borders'.
“The circular makes it clear that the child welfare service must always try to contact the child's family abroad before initiating a care order case,” Solveig Horne, the Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, said in a press release.
“If the child has strong connections to another country, the child welfare service must assess whether it is in the child's best interest to receive follow-up abroad, rather than issuing a care order which means that the child must be moved to a foster home in Norway,” she added.
Tomáš Zdechovsky, a Czech MEP, told The Local that he welcomed Norway's move.
"I consider this news to be a huge satisfaction because Norway finally admitted the existence of the problem. Yes, it can be argued that so far it was made only indirectly, however this does not change the fact that this is a huge shift. This is the first step and I hope it will be followed by others," he said.
The government said the new guidelines have been issued after local authorities have asked for clarification in how to deal with cases involving families in which at least one parent is not Norwegian. The government said the new circular "will make it easier for the case processing officers in the child welfare service to know how to proceed".
According to the press statement, guidelines on how to examine and follow up on children with connections to more than one country will be provided, as well as clearer procedures on whether the embassy or authorities of another country should be consulted in welfare cases.
“If we intervene in the family situation at an early stage and establish a good dialogue, we can build trust and cooperate on assistance measures, and in this way address the problems before they get too big,” Horne said.
The press release also confirmed that Norway will ratify the 1996 Hague Convention during 2016, providing rules for the voluntary placement of children in foster homes in other member countries or transferring welfare cases to other countries if it is considered to be in the child's best interest.