Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 March 2021
While there is no clear explanation, ‘Norwegian child protection’ has become infamous around the world, with the local word for child protection, barnevern, said to be the most commonly known Norwegian word. Possibly because of this, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has in recent years selected numerous Norwegian child protection cases to be heard before the court. Criticism, either from international sources, such as the foreign mass media and religious organisations, or domestically, from various professional groups or concerned parties, provides a good reason to examine how this system works in terms of detecting errors and mistakes. A key insight from the organisational research literature is that there must be structures for learning and improvement. This is to ensure not only that the system can adjust and improve, but also to secure accountability and oversight. Importantly, a system that has the power to make intrusive interventions into private lives must account for and justify its decisions. In this chapter, we examine the structures for detecting and communicating errors and mistakes in the Norwegian child protection system at three levels: the state, the court and locally. To establish an overview of the discourse on errors and mistakes, we have examined national audits and reports by regulatory agencies.
The various regulatory agencies in Norway employ two main types of oversight: first, centrally planned, countrywide audits that examine predefined areas of child protection practice within a sample of agencies, and second, local incident-based audits and inspections that address individual agencies or specific cases. It is then up to the regulatory authorities themselves to decide which cases they consider necessary to investigate further. However, unlike England, Norway does not have a system for serious case reviews of cases that lead to the death or serious injury of a child, although such a system was proposed by an expert committee a few years ago, and may still be implemented (NOU, 2017:12). Generally, the Norwegian system is revised incrementally (Hestbæk et al, 2020), and so we use the centrally planned countrywide audits and reports by regulatory agencies and expert panels to provide a window into errors and mistakes in Norwegian child protection. The data for our analysis consist of eight audit reports over the period 2010–19. We also examine a sample of Norwegian press coverage of child welfare over a four-year period.