The European Court of Human Rights has issued another in a series of rulings against Norway, this time in the case of a violation of the right to family life by the Barnevernet – Norway’s child protective services. The Court found the drastic restrictions imposed by the institution on parents’ right to see their child placed in foster care to constitute a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite initial difficulties, the parents changed their behaviour and the girl could return home.
The parents, whose daughter was taken away soon after birth, were limited to six two-hour visits per year. In its ruling, the Court noted that taking away custody was justified due to a risk of violence and addiction in the family. The social services intervened very quickly, and the child was taken away within a month of birth. This served as an argument for the Norwegian authorities to impose visitation restrictions on the parents, as no emotional bond had yet been formed between the child and her parents. In addition, it was noted that the girl would remain in long-term foster care.
During the court proceedings, the parents began to gradually change their behaviour, as confirmed by an expert witness. In addition, they expressed willingness to accept the help of the social services. In their legal argumentation before the Court, the parents referred to a recent ruling against Norway according to which, in cases where the state takes over custody of a child, it is necessary to take into account the interests of the child’s biological family and to ensure that special procedural guarantees are provided.
According to the ECHR, the Norwegian authorities correctly evaluated the interest of the biological family and acted in the best interest of the child by placing the girl in foster care. The same could not be said about the issue of visitations, however. The Court found that the Norwegian court had decided in advance that the girl was to be placed in long-term foster care, and had erroneously assumed that visitations were not in the girl’s best interest. In addition, the purpose of the visitations was only to enable the girl to know her origins, even though their purpose should be to enable a future reunification of the family, which ultimately did happen as a result of the parents’ change of life style.
“The ruling primarily concerns the important issue of a child’s contact with its biological parents. The contact serves to develop a relationship between the child and the parents, in a way preparing the family to reunite. As has been consistently demonstrated by the Court’s rulings, the principal purpose of foster care is to reunite families if the conditions for it are met. It is also worth noting that this is one of several cases involving the Barnevernet handled by the Court. We await further rulings,” says Counsel Bartosz Zalewski of Ordo Iuris.
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