The Norwegian juvenile authority Barnevernet has been under heavy criticism all week, and the government ministry in charge of it as well, after a teenager under its care ran away and later was found dead.
The government minister ultimately responsible for Barnevernet, Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left (SV) party, cut short his summer holiday to address what he and others are calling a “tragic” situation.
Opposition politicians claim the juvenile authority has long been understaffed and in chaos. The head of its administrative agency Bufdir (The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs) announced her resignation last September and left the position last spring, but her replacement won’t start working until next month.
“This is just completely unacceptable, that it takes a year to get a new director in place,” Laila Dåvøy, a Member of Parliament for the Christian Democrats party, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday.
Officials at the humanitarian organization Redd Barna (“Save the Children,” in Norway) are also concerned, suggesting that the government isn’t taking the importance of strong leadership seriously.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that three out of five reported cases of suspected child abuse or neglect are never even investigated, while the agency’s case load continues to grow. There was a 20 percent increase in reports of children suspected of needing help last year (around 41,000).
Dead teenager sought help herself
In the case of the dead 15-year-old, Aftenposten reported that she had sought help from Barnevernet herself when she was only 10, calling police to report drug use and violence in her own home.
Her case was investigated but dropped, for reasons that aren’t clear. It wasn’t until May of last year that Barnevernet was contacted again, this time by the girl’s school. When investigators went to her home, conditions were so bad that they immediately assumed care for the girl. She remained under Barnevernet’s authority until running away late last week.
Lysbakken was clearly shaken by the death of the 15-year-old girl who had been under Barnevernet’s care for several years. She ran away from the institution where she lived on Friday and was found dead in a rundown house in Bergen on Sunday. Two persons in the house were charged in her death, which police believe was caused by a drug overdose.
“A child under our care has died and this is a tragedy that’s very heavy to bear,” Lysbakken told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said he would examine all aspects of the case and conceded that Barnevernet needs “more heads and hands,” but claimed he didn’t think it had taken an abnormally long time to get a new director in place.