By Julian Chan
One problem which I have encountered both first hand and in reading comments from many parents who have had contact with a country’s CPS is in understanding what those authority’s expectations are regarding child development as well as the transparency of the processes. Here I have made a quick review of available material on Norway’s Barnevernet website as compared to the Western Australian Department for Child Protection.
The Australian site appears appears to provide much more information to the public than the Norwegian counterpart, Barnevernet. It gives the definitions of child abuse and neglect, providing examples and signs for each category. They make their expectations about child development and signs of trauma clear, while also acknowledging that development is not an even, straight line.
There is a clear, published framework for working with cases:
and they have a clear, published policy statement on the use of that framework:
Of interest in the usage of that framework is the policy that the investigation is evidence based, and that the CPS worker is expected to proved clear concerns as well as what is working well. They are expected to have
“A clear and rigourous understanding of the distinction between, past harm, future danger and complicating factors…in straight-forward rather than professionalised language that can be readily understood by service recipients. As much as possible all statements focus on specific, observable behaviours and avoid meaning laden, judgment-loaded terms.”
The case worker is also encouraged to show critical thinking. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is from the framework notes, and deserves to be shown here in full:
“In the contested and anxious environment of child protection casework the paternalistic impulse to establish the truth of any given situation is a constant. As Baistow and colleagues suggest:
Whether or not we think there are absolute perpetrators and absolute victims in child abuse cases, and whether or not we believe in a single uncontaminated ‘truth’ about ‘what happened’, powerful forces pull us towards enacting a script, which offers us these parts and these endings (Baistow et al. 1995: vi).”
The difficulty is that as soon as professionals decide they know the truth about a given situation this begins to fracture working relationships with other professionals and family members, all of whom very likely hold different positions. More than this the professional ceases to think critically and tends to exclude or reinterpret any additional information that doesn’t conform to their original position (English 1996).
Eileen Munro, who is internationally recognized for her work in researching typical errors of practice and reasoning in child protection (Munro 1996: 1998), states:
“The single most important factor in minimizing error (in child protection practice) is to admit that you may be wrong (Munro 2002: 141)1.
Restraining an individual’s natural urge to be definitive and to colonise one particular view of the truth is the constant challenge of the practice leader in the child protection field. Enacting Munro’s maxim requires that all processes that support and inform practice, foster a questioning approach or a spirit of inquiry as the core professional stance of the child protection practitioner.”
Now compare that culture of enquiry and reflection with how Barnevernet presents itself – https://www.bufdir.no/Barnevern/
The case-handling process does not appear to be provided there although the relevant rights and laws are mentioned and described in difficult (for a layman such as myself) legal-speak. How do they go about investigating? How do they make their decisions? Here:
– on page 8, Barnevernet informs the reader that they have it all under control:
“When the parents meet with the child welfare service worker, they are given information about the call or note of concern, and in most cases will be able to read it themselves. After information relating to the notified concern has been provided, the child welfare service worker and the family discuss the content of the call or note of concern. The Child Welfare Service will often also contact others who know the child and the family, for example the local health centre, kindergarten, school, PP service and similar.
The Child Welfare Service is able to make an informed decision on the basis of the above as to whether or not further work in the case is necessary.”
The Child Welfare Service is able to… And we just have to take their word for it. When that statement goes hand in hand with another from the same document, I can only fear that Barnevernet are falling into the trap of paternalistic infallibility that Baistow, Munro et al have warned us about.
“The Child Welfare Service must base its actions on the best interests of the child. This can sometimes conflict with the view of the parents. The Child Welfare Service’s first duty is to provide help and support to the parents so that they can be good carers for their children. If such measures and initiatives fail to produce the desired result, or if the problems experienced by the parents are for whatever reason insurmountable, an alternative may be to relocate the child or children outside the home for a shorter or longer period.”