Children welfare to diplomatic levels

Illustration photo. The people in the photo have nothing to do with the article.

The Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner accuses Norway for terror against Russian families living in the country and claims that Norwegian child welfare authorities have taken 55 children away from Russian mothers in course of the last three years.


Russian media has for a long time been publishing stories on how Russian mothers living in Norway have had their children taken away from them by Norwegian child welfare authorities.

The issue has now reached diplomatic proportions, as the Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov says he will bring in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Investigation Committee in the fight against Norway. 

“We demand that international human rights organizations and institutions, and also the UN, European Council, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe pay attention to the “juvenile terror” in Norway,” Astakhov writes on the Commissioner’s official Twitter account.

Pavel Astakhov.

He claims that Norwegian authorities have taken 55 children away from their parents in Norway in course of the last three years. The official brings the same accuses against Finland, where as many as 74 children are said to have been taken by the authorities.

“It looks like Norway solves the problem of improving its demographic situation (including supplying unfertile couples of the same sex with children) at the expense of visiting families with children,” another Twitter message reads.

Norwegian authorities have so far been very reluctant to give any official answer to the criticism. The Children Welfare Authorities follow a strict professional obligation to maintain secrecy in concrete cases. But now the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion has decided to start giving interview to Russian media in order to present facts about how the child welfare system in Norway works. The Norwegian Embassy in Moscow has also published information about the system on its website.

In an interview with NRK Oddbjørn Hauge, Director General in the Department for Child Welfare Services says that the picture created of the Norwegian Children Welfare Authorities in Russia is full of mistakes. “The Russian Commissioner talks against better judgment,” Hauge says.

Hauge does not want to speculate why Astakhov says the things he does, but says that he (Astakhov) has been saying things like this for years. He believes Astakhov has his information from Russian citizens living in Norway that have had child care cases with Norwegian authorities.

Hauge does not know about any of the 55 single cases, but says that all children have the right to a good childhood, regardless of their background.

“If one suspects that a child is being neglected, the child welfare authorities will always be in dialogue with the parents and children, and 80 percent of the help that is given, takes place in the home.”

According to statistics on child welfare, out of 1.42 million children and youth living in Norway in 2009, nearly 46,500 received some kind of help from the child welfare authorities. More than 80 percent received voluntary assistance measures in the home.

In relation to the child population we find the highest client ratios among immigrant children, in almost all age groups, with the exception of 3-5-year-olds, where the highest rate is among Norwegian-born children to immigrant parents.

The largest group of immigrant children receiving some sort of support in 2009 came from Afghanistan with 163 per 1000 children. Then follows Eritrea, Iraq and Russia. Amongst children born in Norway to immigrant parents, Russia had the highest rate with 85 of 1000, followed by Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2009, 89 percent of the children placed outside the homes had no immigrant background. 6 percent were immigrants and 5 percent were born in Norway to immigrant parents. In relations to the child population, 8.6 per 1000 immigrant children received support. For children with no immigrant background the rate was 5.9 per 1000 and for children born in Norway by immigrant parents 4.3 per 1000.

Good cooperation on the regional level
“Relations between Norwegian and Russian child welfare authorities are systemized and function very good when it comes to the regional cooperation in Barents,” Pål Christian Bergstrøm, Director of the Regional Office for Children, youth and Family Affairs (BUFETAT) in Northern Norway, says to BarentsObserver.

The Steering Committee on Children and Youth at Risk (CYAR).

Bergstrøm heads the Steering Committee on Children and Youth at Risk – a sub-program to the Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Joint Working Group on Health and related Social Issues. The committee has members from Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

“Through our work in the committee we have achieved a mutual understanding of each other’s culture, ways of bringing up children, and the threshold for entering families’ private sphere.

The Norwegian and Russian child welfare systems have basically the same principles when it comes to intervening in family life, Bergstrøm says. These are to be found in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Both countries try to help families solve their problems through different measures in the home before going as far as to remove a child from its parents. “The main difference here is that while we in Norway have a long tradition of using ordinary foster families for children that needs to be placed outside their own biological family for a shorter or longer period, the Russians to a greater extent try to solve problems within the extended family.”

Although cooperation between child welfare authorities is working very well on a practical level in the regions, at the same time conflicts like those we have seen recently in Russian media reach the highest diplomatic level. This only shows the necessity of close cooperation, Bergstrøm says.

Bergstrøm says that his Russian colleagues do not recognize the image of Norwegian child welfare system that is presented in Russian media. “Based on their own experience with our system, they are questioning parts of the stories.”

Russian media have also created a groundless fear for the Norwegian child welfare system amongst Russians living in Norway. Only a couple of weeks ago a Russian family living in Tromsø for seven years packed up and left for Murmansk after their first meeting with the welfare service. They were afraid that the child welfare system would take their daughter away “as they can do, without trial or investigation,” Komsomolskaya Pravda writes.