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Norway vows to change child welfare practices

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Norway vows to change child welfare practices
Minister of Children and Equality Solveig Horne has announced a series of changes to how the Norwegian Child Welfare Service operates. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix
13:01 CEST+02:00
In the face of global protests against the Norwegian Child Welfare Service (Barnevernet), Norway this week announced two changes that could affect the controversial agency's future operations.
On Thursday, the state said that a ratification of the Hague Convention 1996 on parental responsibility would result in changes in how the agency handles cases in which a child has connections to more than one country.  
 
According to Dagbladet, the ratification will mean that children who are taken from the parents in Norway can be placed with relatives abroad rather than in Norwegian foster care. 
 
The ratification, which will take effect on July 1st, would give Norway “a new means to prevent and resolve international parental disputes, child welfare cases and child abduction cases and may facilitate more long-term solutions for the affected children”.
 
 
“If a child has grandparents or aunts and uncles who can take care of them in another country, and if they themselves have a connection to that country, there will be a possibility that the family abroad assume care,” Minister of Children and Equality Solveig Horne said. 
 
According to the proposal, any placement abroad must "be prudent and in the individual child's best interests." The ratification will also allow foreign governments to request access to Child Welfare Services cases.
 
In addition to the ratification of the Hague Convention 1996, the government announced in February that it had introduced new guidelines for how local authorities should deal with cross-border child welfare cases
 
 
Additionally, Horne said on Monday of this week that she has tasked the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision with reviewing a large number of urgent child welfare cases.
 
“We know that the Child Welfare Service do a lot of very good work, but they are often criticised, either for intervening too early or for intervening in the wrong way, or because they become involved too late,” Horne said in a government statement. 
 
“We want to get a picture of how the system works, how compulsory care orders are handled and of what happens in cases where the system fails,” she added. 
 
The announcements come after intense criticism of the Child Welfare Service from both within Norway and abroad. 
 
Earlier this month, demonstrations were held in more than 60 cities worldwide by protesters who accuse the agency of “kidnapping” children, especially when one or more of the parents are foreigners. 
 
Spurred by a high-profile case in which five children were removed from their Norwegian/Romanian parents' care by Barnevernet in November, the protests were organized largely by Romanian and Evangelical groups. 
 
Anders Henriksen, the head of section at the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir), told The Local that a total of 1,664 children were taken into care in 2014. Of those, 424 had mothers who were born abroad. 
 
He said that some of the controversial child removals often have an element of cultural misunderstanding.
 
"The Norwegian Child Welfare is a system which can be difficult to understand for foreigners who settle in Norway. It may be challenging for them to understand that a public institution like the Norwegian Child Welfare can intervene in the private life of a family, and take over the care of the children," he said. 
 
While he couldn't discuss individual cases, Henriksen said that in most instances, children are removed because of "maltreatment, violence, substance abuse, psychological problems, drugs and sexual abuse".
 
"It is required that people living in Norway obey Norwegian law [and] it is forbidden by law to punish children in Norway physically and psychologically," he said.
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