Sadly, the Bodnarius’ story is far from an isolated incident. Barnevernet has become notorious around the world for its intrusions on family autonomy and unwarranted removals of children, particularly children born to foreign nationals. But the Bodnarius’ story has galvanized the anti-Barnevernet movement, sparking dozens of protests at Norwegian embassies and consulates. A Facebook page supporting the family has more than 27,000 likes, and an online petition has gathered over 60,000 signatures. Just last week, the BBC published a story shedding light on the Bodnarius’ case, as well as similar incidents across Norway.
Among Americans, though, reactions to the Bodnarius’ plight have been mixed. Allegations of child abuse are a serious matter, and we tend to approach these cases with the belief that the legal system will operate fairly and seek the truth. This was my own assumption at first. Surely, I thought, an advanced country like Norway has a fair, above-board legal process, with checks and balances, designed to remove children in only the worst-case scenarios.
That’s where I, like many Americans, would have been wrong. Barnevernet is structured to operate as a law unto itself. Its decisions are not subject to meaningful judicial review. Instead of coming before a court of law, Barnevernet, an administrative agency, conducts its hearings before an unaccountable board made up of three to five people, called a “county social welfare board.”
Norwegian psychologist Einar Salvesen, a former Barnevernet expert who is now calling for reforms, describes the process this way: “In 99% of the cases, I think, the county board follows the CPS decision and parents have little opportunity to bring in witnesses and disprove the claims of CPS. So [the parents] are at a disadvantage. . . . I’ve seen myself in some of these cases, that this was wrong. The children should not have been taken out of the home.”