Why are so many parents in Norway claiming that the state is kidnapping their children? With a spike in cases in recent years and accusations of racial intolerance, Dateline asks whether these children are being saved, or stolen.
"We’d seen them on the ultrasound, felt all the movement in my tummy. The hardest thing was to come home empty handed,” mum Natasha Myra Olsen tells Georgina Davies.
When her and partner Erik had twin girls, Norway’s child protection agency, Barnevernet, turned up at the hospital and took them away.
“It’s sadness and a sense of loss that no one can understand,” she says.
Natasha and Erik's twin girls were taken away just hours after being born.
The agency says it doesn’t act lightly, but sometimes it can’t afford to wait.
“We talk to many kids, who have had a history in the child welfare services,” Anders Henriksen from the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs tells Georgina.
“And their main feedback to us is why didn’t you intervene earlier on? So that’s the other side of this story.”
Comment: The very worst that can happen with child protection
Natasha and Erik’s twins were taken away by Norway’s child protection service as soon as they were born. Now the family are fugitives in Poland, in a case that’s appalled psychologist Einar Salvesen.
But Natasha and Erik say the case against them is punishment for someone else’s fraud, years earlier.
Natasha’s adoptive mother had falsely claimed her daughter had a mental disability in order to get extra welfare payments.
“The girls were kidnapped,” Erik says. “They had absolutely no reason to do what they did.”
Protests took place worldwide, including in London, after the removal of the five Bodnariu children for alleged smacking. They were later returned by Barnevernet.
Theirs is one of many cases that have thrown Norway’s child protection into the spotlight, and questioned where Barnevernet draws the line.
After an increase of 70 per cent in emergency care renewals in recent years, around 1,500 children are now removed from their parents in Norway each year.
Even spanking a child - illegal in Norway, but legal in many countries including Australia - has been cited as a reason.
The Intern Diaries: Norway’s Stolen Children?
The story of children being taken away from their parents particularly grabbed Georgina Davies’ interest as it conflicted with her image of Norway as an idyllic, progressive country.
"Children are not being placed under emergency decisions due to slapping or things like that,” Anders Henriksen says in response. “We are talking about severe deficiencies, we are talking about children who are at immediate risk.”
One former Barnevernet psychologist has now turned whistleblower – Einar Salvesen is one of 170 professionals who have petitioned the government saying Norway’s child protection is deeply flawed.
“If you spank your child, your child will be or can be removed permanently from you,” Einar says. “And you will see them twice a year for two hours under strict conditions. Or maybe four times a year, if you're lucky… they are stolen children.”
Samson Dejene’s three children were taken away by Barnevernet two years ago and he’s still fighting to get them back.
But Samson Dejene believes the fact he’s originally from Ethiopia played a part in the removal of his three children.
“My background plays a big matter,” he tells Georgina. “Automatically when a person is from Africa, it’s very common that people think that ‘oh these people spank their kids’, but that’s not the case.”
Samson has spent most of his life in Oslo and is a social worker who’s even worked for Barnevernet.
He became the main carer when his marriage broke down, but when the children were with their mother, officials turned up and took them away.
Could we all be accused of bad parenting?
Georgina Davies travelled to Norway to report for Dateline on the increase in children being taken away from their parents by the authorities, but it raised questions for the mum of two about how all parents look after their children.
One of his daughters told her new foster family that she’d been spanked at home.
“The mum have admitted that she have slapped on the bottom, but in my case I have never slapped them, never.”
Barnevernet won’t commit on individual cases, so Dateline can only present the parents’ side of each specific story, but it denies racism.
“It has been said that Norwegian welfare is hunting for foreign children… in my opinion, the allegations in international cases are wrong,” Gunnar Toresen from Barnevernet says.
“They just took the children, no warning about it, and then you are left alone,” mum of six Monica Fridtjofsen says.
“They just took the children, no warning about it, and then you are left alone,” mum of six Monica Fridtjofsen says. She challenged the removal of her children and they were later returned.
Meanwhile, Natasha and Erik now have their twins back, after Natasha and her lawyer proved that she wasn’t intellectually disabled, but it’s not the end of their story.
They’ve fled to Poland, where they’re claiming asylum, worried that Barnevernet was building a case against their parenting skills.
Now they’re wanted by Norwegian police for kidnapping their own children.
“We’ve always considered ourselves to be the ones on the children’s side,” Gunnar Toresen says.
“I have no trouble understanding that the worst thing that can happen to you as a parent is that your child is taken away.”
Why were my children taken away?
Five of Monica Fridtjofsen’s children were removed by Norway’s child protection services. As Dateline looks at the controversy over the agency’s decisions, Monica explains the trauma her reunited family now feels.
It’s announced that it is reviewing 200 cases, although confidentiality means it’s unknown if Natasha and Erik’s is among them.
“I do also understand that sometimes in this very difficult process, we make errors,” Gunnar concedes.
So are these children being saved, or stolen? See the full story at the top of the page,
The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (responsible for Barnevernet)
Barnevernet Steals Children
Reporter/Producer: Georgina Davies
Producer/Camera: Catherine Scott
Producer: Joel Tozer
Camera: Ben Foley
Editors: Simon Phegan / Ryan Walsh
Source : http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/story/norways-stolen-children