This Notice, addressed to the Minister of The Department for Children, Equality and Inclusion, has been signed by more than 200 professionals; about. 30 Psychologists, 50 Lawyers, a number GP’s and other Health Workers including Child Protection Officers, Expert Witnesses and University Professors.
A number of professionals due to career reasons, do not wish to officially state their support. The current situation within Norwegian Child Welfare Services and System gives rise to profound concerns. As professionals and responsible citizens we consider ourselves accountable for clearly warning as follows: Under the current laws and practice in Norway an unknown number of children are suffering due to incompetence and abuse by authorities.
As a society we should no longer accept the prevailing situation. Our opinion is that it requires mobilisation of a stronger commitment among all dealing with the challenges facing Norwegian Child Welfare Services/System (our abbreviation NCWS). This applies to child welfare professionals, politicians, media and the general social debate. We all have to ensure that children and their families are not exposed to breaches of their human rights caused by incompetence or decision making processes within welfare and care organisations. This is especially so, given that these same organisations are meant to create welfare and care of actual needs.
An increasing number of professionals in interaction with NCWS are increasingly understanding that the system, in many situations, falls short of promoting the interest of children, and that there is a need for comprehensive changes. Experience suggests that initiatives so far being launched or planned are insufficient or inadequate. Ministers and department heads have promoted changes, but obviously this is not enough.
We would prefer having confidence in the professional expertise and discretionary decisions of the NCWS, and that these would help ensuring well founded actions and decisions. Similarly, we would like to believe that the legal rights of children and families are being maintained by the courts and their expert witnesses. Professionals, who have examined individual cases, all too often discover a completely different reality.
We know that there are many cases, where statutory services have had to intervene in family conflicts and take over the care of children. Many NCWS offices address this extremely demanding task in the best way possible. At the same time we regularly observe examples, where NCWS appears to be a dysfunctional organisation performing erroneously with subsequent serious consequences.
We observe cases where NCWS is failing to recognize obvious child abuse and serious lack of care within families. Thus they do not act timely with adequate interventions, which might have saved children from an unacceptable life situation. In such circumstances developing and agreeing on better methods of assessment will help children, suffering due to lack of care, getting adequate help quickly.
On the other hand there are cases where the NCWS transfer children from their homes based upon very weak evidence, characterised by speculative interpretation, disagreement between assessments and conclusions, and missing quality of measures that might otherwise have brought about change.
A serious matter is the lack of legal rights for families resulting from the close link between many expert psychologists and the NCWS. NCWS is their principal and employer, and frequently engages the same psychologists for assessments of the same case, as initially related to sanctioning emergency decisions to take over child care. When the parents appeal decisions to county boards and onwards through the court system, they learn that the NCWS has appointed the same expert witnesses as in earlier parts of the proceedings.
For the experts these are well paid assignments, and many professionals have these child protection cases as their only source of income. Thus the assigned expert witnesses may easily prefer to state expert opinions that support decisions already taken by the NCWS. Thus we encounter a situation of serious conflict of interest, which may constitute impaired legal protection of the vulnerable families involved in NCWS decisions.
When expert witnesses submit their reports and give evidence in the Courts, we often see that the observational basis upon which they report is very weak. Hence, their assessments are easily weak and abstract. Nevertheless, statements by experts appointed by the NCWS are given excessive emphasis when presented in court.
Judges are frequently entrusting the decision to be made to the expert witnesses. In some cases the biological parents have sufficient financial resources to appoint their own expert witnesses to study their case. In these cases judges appear to place less emphasis on these alternative conclusions.
Witness statements from privately appointed experts are not given the same status as those made by experts appointed by statutory services. Far too often we observe that biological parents, without sufficient financial resources, do not have any chance of a fair hearing when faced with a large and powerful statutory service. Consequently, we see that once decisions have been based upon weak observations and unverified interpretations, they are applied through all levels of the legal system.
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