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Norwegian media urged to play bigger role in promoting child welfare

by Dragana Paulsen

OSLO, June 6 (Xinhua) -- At a time when the Norwegian authorities are looking for ways to resolve the controversies surrounding the country's child welfare service Barnevernet, local media organizations should be more engaged in reporting relevant cases and help promote children protection, media veterans and rights lawyers said at a seminar on Monday.

The event, organized by a group of professionals, who sent an open letter of protest to Norway's minister of children and equality last year, and attended by many other experts, centered around the sensitive issue of Barnevernet taking children from their parents in a bid to avoid potentially serious abuses or negligence.

While Barnevernet and its supporters believe that the service is strictly oriented towards the protection of children's rights, others claim such a practice breaks the human rights of the family members.

According to Gro Hillestad Thune, a human rights lawyer, the dialogues between Barnevernet and affected families are happening but only behind closed doors, and it is a big challenge for journalists to cover related developments.

"Good journalism could strengthen children's rights in Norway, a country that many believe is a world leader in protecting people's rights," Thune said.

Arne Jensen, secretary-general of the Association of Norwegian Editors, said that when journalists report about Barnevernet, they should pay close attention to their way of narration.

As he sees it, although facts have been presented well in the press worldwide, some of the foreign reports did not give a real picture about Barnevernet.

"With all due respect, there has been a lot of nonsense written about Barnevernet abroad. We need to stop demonizing Barnevernet in media," Jensen said.

Thomas Ergo, the Norwegian journalist behind the "Glass girl" report about the teenager that had bad experiences with Barnevernet, emphasized the need to highlight children's personal experiences. He also called for more openness from Barnevernet in communication with the press.

Noting that some of the employees of Barnevernet are using client confidentiality as an an excuse to dodge questions from reporters, Ergo said that in this case a journalist has to understand the regulations of the system and "push them a bit without disrespecting their legal duties."

Venil Katarina Thiis, a lawyer that has been working on child protection cases for 25 years, said that children themselves are not heard in many of Barnevernet's so-called prevention moves.

"We need to ask ourselves what is in the best interest of children. Barnevernet today has mostly general perception about what is good for children, but does not really know how the children are doing individually," Thiis said. "The system is built on false premises and everyone needs to understand that both children and parents have common interests -- to live a normal family life."

"It is important to talk to children that are having a bad time, not to take them away from their families," she said, expressing concern that the number of children taken from their parents by Barnevernet almost doubled from 2008.

Irmelin Tjelflaat, an official from the Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, said that employees in Barnevernet are working for the best interest of children, but in some cases the employees just do not have enough time or capacity to conduct a thorough investigation as to what really happens in an allegedly abusive family.

"What we lack and require for is a competence norm and our goal is to reduce the average work load of 50 cases per employee to nine to 15 per employee," Tjelflaat said.

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