They cite unsuitable toys and clothes, insufficient room for children to play

Among the reasons listed by Norwegian child welfare authorities for taking away the three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter of an expatriate Indian couple were unsuitable toys and clothes, insufficient room for the children to play in the house and the son not having his own bed.

The couple, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, have battled the Child Welfare Services in Stavenger, 500 km from the Norwegian capital, for the last eight months against these and other perceived shortcomings in their parenting.

It began when, acting on complaints from the local child care centre at Stavenger, where Anurup works as a geo-scientist with American firm Halliburton, the couple were placed under observation by the area's state-run Child Welfare Services.

After a few visits, on May 12, 2011, child welfare workers took away the Bhattacharyas' son, who was then two, and five-month-old daughter and placed them in an emergency shelter.

Four days later, the parents appealed the case before the County Board, which hears appeals in child welfare and social cases.

The Board was sympathetic to the couple. This is what it said:

“The county has noted that there is a danger that the child could fall down from the bathinette and hurt itself. During the case, it became clear that the couple does not own a basinette/diaper-changing table. The child's diapers are being changed on a bed, an arrangement much lower than a traditional Norwegian basinette/diaper-changing table.

‘No accidents'

“To this point, there have been no accidents while changing the diapers of the child… The most important and conclusive point being: There was no emergency in the home prior to the Child Welfare Services' first visit in the family home. The problems occurred after representatives from the Child Welfare Services arrived in the home. The mother got scared when it dawned on her that the Child Welfare Services' might place her children outside of their own home. That was a difficult situation, but the problems of this situation should have been solved in a different and more thought-out way, as opposed to deciding to send the children to an emergency shelter.”

On the 23rd of May, the county board concluded: “The requirements of the law for emergency decisions of this kind were not fulfilled when the decision was made. The conditions for maintaining the decision are not fulfilled either… In the short term, there is reason to believe that the conditions of the home will change, as the parents of the mother are coming to Norway to help their daughter. The decision to place the children outside the home is hereby cancelled.”

New turn

The Child Welfare Service appealed the sentence in the city court of Stavanger, where the case took a new turn.

Its list of complaints against the parents was long. It said it had “severe doubts” about the parents' ability to take care of their children, stating that its main concern was that the mother did not “maintain” the children's emotional needs.

The mother had admitted to slapping the son at one point, but the Child Welfare Service noted that this was something she had never done again after she became aware that it was illegal under Norwegian law.

Further, it listed other reasons, such as the house not having sufficient room to play, and toys that were not age-suitable for the children, the son not having his own bed, or linen or suitable clothes for his size.

Mother's behaviour

It expressed concern over the way the mother interacted with the infant daughter. Noting that she handled the daughter with “sudden movements” it concluded she was unable to hold the child in a proper way. It said that the when the mother breast-fed the infant, she put her on her lap without holding her, holding the head against the breast, but not close to her body.

The court decided that both the children would be taken from their home, and that the time the parents would be allowed to meet their children would be set to two hours, twice a year.

The court also pointed out that the grandparents' visit to Norway, which the county board had emphasised as positive for the family, was for a limited time and would not have an effect on the children's situation in a long term perspective.

It described the family situation as “constant and urgent.”

When the Bhattacharyas' children were taken away from them, their daughter, then aged five months, was still breast feeding.

The two siblings are now in two different “ethnic” foster homes.

Earlier, the Child Welfare Services had suggested that the parents be allowed to meet the children twice a year for two hours each, but the country board revised it in November that the two cannot be reunited with their parents until they turn 18 in 2026 and 2028; until then, the two children would be allowed to spend three hours a year with their parents, in three separate visits, lasting an hour each.

This article has been adapted for The Hindu from the Norwegian weekly magazine Ny Tid ("New Time"). It was translated from the original by Joe Ekker.

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