From the moment information began to appear on social media I have followed the unfolding drama of the Bodnariu family. Like many of you, I went through several stages of processing the reality of this situation. The first stage was denial. The picture of an idyllic Nordic country, namely Norway, which is highly developed and very civilized somehow didn’t line up with the incredible act of confiscating five children, the youngest one still being breastfed.
I then moved to the next stage: I wanted information. I researched the practices of Barnevernet, the already infamous structure of the Norwegian Child Protection Services. As the weeks progressed curious aspects started to emerge. More and more documented situations, surprisingly similar to the case of the Bodnariu family, began appearing in the public eye. Following the publication of Marianne Haslev Skanlånd’s research about the 69 reasons that Barnevernet used in order to remove children a litany of questions emerged: What does the way one makes an omelet or how thick one slices the bread have to do with the confiscation of the children? Why is the child not allowed to smile at strangers on the street? Why do the parent have to be punished because the baby is turning his/her head in the opposite direction when its face is being washed? …
Every experiment, be it a medical, social or otherwise, is motivated by a particular theory. And no matter how genius or ridiculous that theory might be, I have tried to unearth the one governing Barnevernet’s activities. Because of my early interest in Psychiatry, which began when I studied at the Medical University, and through the research of people like Dr. Mariana Goron and Mr. Steven Bennett, I have come, on one hand, to the Theory of Attachment and, on the other hand, to the Norwegian laws regarding the protection of children. So… can sense be made of this situation?
Let’s discuss these problems in order. The Attachment Theory was launched by Mr. John Bowbly, a British psychiatrist, and completed by the Canadian Mrs. Mary Ainsworth. Based on the evolutionist model, it argues that, at the base of the relational behavior of every person, there lies a relationship of fundamental attachment to a single individual which is genetically determined and formed right after birth. Initially, this was considered to be the mother. This person was generically referred to as “the person of reference” or “the caregiver”. This attachment is of a great importance for the child in as much as he or she will formulate his or her behavior and thinking to perpetuate this relationship. This continuity becomes essential to the survival of the individual. The child will even “pay” with functional faults for keeping this attachment to the caregiver. This child-caregiver attachment relationship is so strong, that its impairment, destruction, or disappearance leads to more-or-less severe emotional and cognitive distresses in both childhood as well as into adulthood. These distresses appear through passiveness, apathy, failure to thrive, agitation, lack of attention, the inability of forming long-term significant relationships, emotional instability, depression, etc. It is important to emphasize here that there are several types of attachment, which are considered NORMAL, even though not all of them are ideal: the secure attachment (optimal), anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoiding, disorganized and unclassified. There are also PATHOLOGICAL types of attachment disorders. According to the DSM (The Diagnosis and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorder) these are diagnosed by a psychologist or a psychiatrist following an in depth evaluation and thorough standardized tests as well as by verifying the qualifying criteria for psychiatric pathology(s). It is treated only under the direction of a psychiatrist. The most serious causes leading to these pathological attachment disorders are negligence, abuse or the violence of the caregiver inflicted upon the child. This information is all well and good. The problems begin however, with the way the Barnevernet agents are putting this theory in practice. In Romania we have a saying “teoria ca teoria, dar practica ne omoară”. Essentially this means that an idea may be difficult in theory but in practice it will be far more so. I have read about multiple families who are suffering greatly under this system. Without exception, I have identified a few of the major problems that are at the root of each case:
1. The most condemning problem is that this “practice” launches from the presumption that the parent are GUILTY. From the very beginning the process starts off with the unshakeable conviction that these children (who will ultimately be taken away from their families) are in fact, suffering from a PATHOLOGICAL disorder of attachment. This automatically means that they have in some way been either abused, neglected, or beaten and therefore must be immediately removed from this aggressive environment. The natural result of this presumption is to look for (or to create when actual incriminating evidence is lacking) proofs to justify this purpose.
2. The presumption of guilt originates when “concerns” or “assumptions” are expressed by persons who have no psychiatric qualifications to evaluate or assess the given situation but are given the instructions and the authority to do exactly that – evaluate and assess. This opens wide the doors that have lead to abuses throughout the system. Observe the Bodnariu girls’ situation: They were taken from their parents after a denouncement in which the director of their school expressed her “concern” that the girls “might be” disciplined at home.
3. Another blaring problem is that the diagnosis of pathological attachment disorder has been given by individuals who are NOT PSYCHIATRISTS!! In the majority of the cases the diagnosis is FALSE. If, in the best case scenario, those assessing the situation are actually psychologists, it has been revealed that they did not apply standardized testing nor repeated evaluation in giving a diagnosis according to all the criteria found in DSM. This has been the case in all the situations presented thus far. They would not have had the time to follow this protocol because everything was done so quickly. It has been justified that “this is how things are”, without proofs… and then the children are removed as an emergency. According to the declarations given by the Norwegian activist, Marius Reikerås, even the psychologists who tried to point out the discordance between the family’s situation and the severity of the measures taken became undesirable for the system. The lecturer Gunn Astrid Baugerud from the University College of Applied Sciences in Oslo and Anskerhus noted in a study of criminalistic psychology, that this discrepancy between the problems of the family and the extreme measures of urgently taking away children has appeared in an unjustified number of cases.
4. The way the evidences are fabricated is an insult to civilized psychology and medicine, most especially to psychiatry.
Here are a few examples:
• The child turning his/her face when it’s being washed by the father. This means that the child is afraid that the father would hit him/her, not a normal reaction of a child when a wet hand is placed on his/her face.
• The child is intently watching people passing on the streets. For Barnevernet this means that the A2 criteria from DSM-IV-TR shows that the child has under reactive attachment disorder or undiscriminating sociability rather than, as is actually the case, the normal interest in other human beings, which demonstrates the standard psychological development of the child.
• The mother cries when the baby is ripped from her arms by Barnevenet. This means she suffers from depression – without an evaluation, without any diagnostic criteria and without any differential diagnosis.
• The mother is suffering from a profound ambivalence in her interpersonal relations. An ambivalence or inconsistency, which is of course, denied by the father. This fact for Barnevernet suggests that the mother herself has a pathological attachment disorder – which will be reflected in the attachment of the child to the mother, an aspect sustained by the attachment theory, but unconfirmed those who know the mother personally.
• The child is eating too fast – surely this child was the victim of incest;
• The child is eating too slow – surely the child was the victim of incest;
• The child does not like caviar – surely the child was the victim of incest (In the last three cases I could not find a correspondent in present day psychiatry.)
• The child is taken obsessively to the family’s doctor or to the emergency room for fictitious reasons, only to demonstrate the inability of the mother to care for her own child. And so on.
5. The way the children are treated afterwards is again an upside-down approach to the attachment theory. The obvious intention is to break all stable attachments formed within the biological family and recreate an attachment to a different family. This is called by Barnevernet “the superior interest of the child”. It is like peeling off a stamp from one place to relocate it to another. Let’s take the Bodnariu children as an example. Why were the five children separated? Because you can “populate” three new families with them; five stamps on three different envelopes, right? Why were the older children grouped by twos with the sibling of the closest age? Why were the parents given different visitation schedules for each set of children? Because their attachment to the biological family is in different stages of development, based on their ages. Eliana and Naomi already have a stable attachment, having developed from ages five and six, so they had to be completely separated from their parents, without visitation rights, presents or phone calls. As a result, the ten-minute phone call to each of the girls that was granted to the parents was an enormous concession, made possible only because of the actions of the Romanian authorities. This thing should have never happened. But it did, as well as the recent one-hour meeting with parents, thanks to the involvement of all who came out in the streets to protest. As a result it was also discovered that there was a letter to the parents from the girls that had never been delivered. One of the girls declared: “I thought you were going to die”. They should never have found out that their parents are still living. They should have already begun to work through the reattachment mechanisms to the new family in conformity with Barnevernet. With the two boys, ages five and two, Matei and Ioan, the situation is even more inhumane. According to the attachment theory this is the age when repeated breakups will have an effect similar to that of mourning, as in mourning after a person has died. As a result, Ruth was permitted to see her sons periodically, so that they could develop aggression toward her. The end goal? In the end they won’t want to see her anymore. This is what the theory is telling us should happen. This is the reason why one of the boys asked “Did daddy truly say he misses me?”. With the youngest the authorities didn’t bother too much. They “generously” allowed the mother to visit him twice a week because he would never know that Ruth was his mother if he were to remain with Barnevernet. It didn’t matter that they risked failure to thrive syndrome by pulling him away from his mother’s breast. It didn’t matter that they irradiated him for no reason by exposing him to a head-to-toe CT scan, even though they could have done non-invasive ultrasound on different parts of the body to see whether or not he had been abused.
6. I will continue with this rationale: If this displacement from the biological family, attachment to a surrogate family and multiple transfers to various other families is supposedly beneficial for the child, why do recent statistics show that 8-9 childhood deaths are reported amongst children placed in the foster care system? This rate is a much higher than that of the general population. Also, why is the rate of adoption of Norwegian children found under Barnevernet custody so much smaller than the rate of those temporarily placed into surrogate families? In the majority of cases this goes up to and as far as the age of 18 years old? This information was revealed when the Romanian Parliament’s delegation visited Norway. I will not even begin to explore the motives behind the financial aspect of supporting and promoting Barnevernet. Others have done it before me, and much better.
Going back to the second point of my argument, the one regarding the Norwegian legislation of Child Protection, a few facts need to be mentioned. The primary reason for taking a child away from its biological family and placing him/her in a foster family are exactly the ones described in the attachment theory: negligence, abuse or violence toward the child. This would not be a problem in itself, but the statistics published by the National Bureau of Norwegian Statistics reveals that, out of the total number of reasons given for the removal of children from their biological home, only 20% of the cases are referring to negligence, violence, abuse of any nature and/or consumptions of drugs. The other 80% have unjustified reasons (“other reasons”). The law articles that are governing the Barnevernet activity, and the most frowned upon, are those found under number 4.12, sections A-D. For example, section A is allowing the state to take over the children if the physical and psychological conditions of the child’s lifestyle are not up to Barnevernet’s standards. That is why, if the agent doesn’t like the way the mother is cooking an omelet, or if he/she considers that the bread slices are too thick, the child is taken away. If the child’s clothes are not folded the way the agent likes, then the child is taken away. Very logical, right? Also, section D of the same law indicates the state is free to take the child away if it SUSPECTS that the child will be neglected or abused at some point IN THE FUTURE. As a result the parent who is a product of the Barnevernet system is marked with a hot iron stamp and is automatically considered at risk, which means they will never be allowed to keep their own children. Any parent who has requested Barnevernet’s help in the past is also black listed and will be followed. For the parents who have already had children removed, it is clear that any future children they have in Norway will be removed in the same way. Without assistance, suitable treatment, help, counseling or correct diagnosis; with unprofessional activity that is forced upon by some agents lacking proper training or credentials; disguised as “the superior interest of the child” and glazed with a bit of an upside-down psychiatry – this is child protection in Norway.
I cannot end without shining the spotlight briefly on another kind of psychiatric care in Norway. This is the kind that Ruth Johanne Bodnariu, as a nurse who specialized in child psychiatry, understood and practiced. She counseled teenagers to help them avoid acts of self-aggression through the emergency phone line Kirken SOS. For this, and for her activity with street children in Romania, she was cited in the most prestigious psychiatric journal from the Nordic countries, Mental Health Journal in 2012. So, for her contribution to society, Barnevernet “repays” her by taking her children away. If somehow in all this there is involvement of a personal vendetta at the hands of a Barnevernet agent, it is even more heinous. The end result is humiliating for the entire medical profession.
I am now at the final stage of my Barnevernet diagnosis. I did not rush to declare it, because I wanted time for research. These life and death situations cannot and should not be evaluated in just a few short days. But, as long as the Norwegian state continues to endorse the flagrant abuses against human rights and against all principles of good medical practice produced by Barnevernet, I firmly declare that I do NOT want to see the fiords in the next 50 years.
Dr. Daniela Maris