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Parents whose child has been taken away are entitled to a second chance. ECtHR on the side of the Norwegian family

Published: 05.03.2022

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· In 2015, the Norwegian children's welfare office took away a 2.5-month-old daughter from her parents, accusing them of neglectful care, even though a few weeks earlier it had concluded that the care was "suitable".

· The authority granted parents the right to two one-hour meetings with their daughter a month, under the supervision of a social worker.

· The Norwegian court approved the authority's decision and limited the parents' right to three one-hour meetings a year, pointing out that there were problems with interaction between the parents and the child in the course of the supervised contacts so far.

· In 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that such a radical limitation of the right to family contacts made it impossible to rebuild a bond with the child, which was a violation of Art. 8 of the Convention.

· The Ordo Iuris Institute sent an amicus curiae brief to the Court on this matter.

 

“In the opinion submitted to the Tribunal, we argued that under Art. 8 of the Convention, the parents who have been temporarily deprived of their child due to insufficient upbringing skills, are entitled to the "right to a second chance". This was the situation of the applicants in this case, who most likely committed minor negligence in taking care of their daughter, but for seven years, they had shown determination in seeking to regain her, fighting for her before offices and courts. However, they were not given a second chance, that is, the opportunity to prove that they became better caregivers than before. Unfortunately, the Norwegian Barnevernet works on a vicious cycle: first, it takes the child, limiting meetings with the parent to a few short visits a year, and after a few years, regardless of the parent’s efforts, it irrevocably gives the child up for adoption, pointing to the lack of ties between them – which, after all, was caused by the activities of the office”, emphasised Weronika Przebierała, Director of the Centre of the International Law the Ordo Iuris Institute.

In the spring of 2015, the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (Barnevernet) took away their 2.5-month-old daughter from her parents, as a result of a midwife's denunciation accusing them of neglecting the child. The decision was a surprise because in February, the same office, after conducting an inspection, assessed the care for the child as "adequate". In the justification of the decision, Barnevernet pointed to irregularities in the development of the girl's motor skills caused by "the lack of interaction and social impulses from the parents". The office transferred the child immediately to a foster family, granting the parents the right to two one-hour meetings a month under the supervision of an employee of the office. The parents made an appeal against the decision to the court, which dismissed it, but due to the judge's partiality, the decision was soon quashed by the second instance court, which ordered the case to be re-examined. In 2017, the court of first instance upheld Barnevernet's decision again, limiting the parents' right to contact with the child to three one-hour supervised meetings a year. The court indicated that the parents showed a "reduced level of parenting skills", as evidenced by "a problem with the interaction between them and the child" during the meetings held under the supervision of a social worker. According to the court, communication problems were at the root of disturbances in the development of the child’s motor skills. The court noted that the child's mother was deaf and communicated with the child using sign language but found that this was not related to her difficulty interacting with her daughter.

In 2018, the parents filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, accusing the Norwegian authorities of violating their right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). The Ordo Iuris Institute intervened in the case and, with the consent of the president of the fifth section of the Tribunal, submitted an amicus curiae brief containing legal arguments for the protection of parental rights. Ultimately, the Tribunal issued a judgment in which it agreed with the Institute's position. As a consequence – once again – it ruled that Norway violated Art. 8 of the Convention and awarded the parents 25,000 euro in compensation. In its justification, the Tribunal stated that Barnevernet had grounds for taking away the daughter from her parents but had no grounds for such a radical limitation of their right to maintain contact with the child. The ECtHR noted that limiting contacts to three one-hour meetings a year was incompatible with the primary goal of social welfare, which should be the pursuit of family reunification. Measures isolating the child from her biological parents should be temporary, and only as a last resort should lead to a permanent transfer of the child to a foster family.

“The Tribunal, in fact, shared our position, pointing out that the state has a duty to seek to rebuild the bond between a child and their biological parents. This is yet another ruling confirming that Norway has a systemic problem with respecting parental rights”, noted Weronika Przebierała.

The case of A.L. and others v. Norway, ECtHR judgment of 20 January 2022.

 

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