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.
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.
“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.