State fails to halt abuse of children

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A devastating report by a state commission has angered but not surprised Norway’s government minister in charge of equality and family issues. The report found that the state has repeatedly failed to help children who are suffering from abusive parents and guardians.

Commission leader Ann-Kristin Olsen presented what some are calling a “catastrophic” assessment of child welfare services in Norway. PHOTO: Barne- og likestillingsdepartementet

“When I think about these children who have been subjected to violence and assaults, I get angry and sad,” said government minister Solveig Horne, after being handed the commission’s findings just before the weekend.

“The findings are serious, but unfortunately not surprising,” Horne added. “The reports shows that we still have a long way to go in protecting all children from violence and assault.”

The report detailed how children subjected to abuse are often let down by other adults around them. People in positions of authority often fail to take them seriously, overlook warning signs and sometimes are guilty of sheer incompetence in addressing even suspected child abuse. In other cases there’s simply a lack of initiative, and children are left to fend for themselves in deeply troubled homes.

The commission, led by lawyer Ann-Kristin Olsen who served as Norway’s first female police chief, found that the failure to tackle child abuse has left many children in Norway suffering unnecessarily. If they had received the help they needed, Olsen said, they could have been rescued from destructive home environments.

Government minister Solveig Horne, shown here at a UN meeting, said she was angered and saddened by the commission’s findings of how abused children have been and can be overlooked in Norway. PHOTO: Barne- og likestillingsdepartementet

Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized over the weekend that the commission’s report reveals a “catastrophic betrayal” of far too many children in Norway, a country otherwise known for its extensive social welfare services and for making children a high priority. Now Norway’s child welfare agency Barnevernet is being accused of having too little competence and too little cooperation and coordination with other state agencies. Barnevernet workers don’t visit troubled homes or homes suspected of being troubled often enough, and when they do, they speak too little or even not at all with the children themselves.

Olsen’s commission proposed fully 57 measures directed at various levels of the state welfare system, to better address children’s interests. “It’s serious to hear that children often haven’t been consulted or questioned in cases where there’s suspicion of assault and abuse,” Horne said. “Children are the most important source of information about their own lives, and it’s critical that they have someone with whom they can speak.”

Calls were going out for taking children more seriously, improving competence in speaking with children and promising them that abusive parents or others in their lives won’t be told what they say. No case launched into suspected child abuse should be closed until the children involved have had plenty of opportunity to be heard, the commission claimed.

Its conclusions will now be sent out to hearing, with new pressure exerted on the welfare agencies involved to do a much better job. The commission’s main message was that improvements are needed immediately.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund