It’s been years since Amy Jakobsen Bjørnevåg saw her son for the last time, after Norway’s child protection services took him away, claiming he wasn’t eating enough food.
Since that fateful day, this young mother has been fighting to see her little Tyler once again, in the meantime, the state has sought to change Tyler’s name and won’t reveal where he’s going to school.
Bjørnevåg is a United States citizen who was born in Brooklyn, New York and moved to her dads home country of Norway at the age of 12. When Bjørnevåg was 18, she had Tyler, who struggled with keeping on weight from the time he was little. He often refused to eat solid foods, and when he hit 19 months old, Bjørnevåg’s “worst nightmare” began.
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On July 23, 2013, agents from Norway’s child protection service agency, Barnevernet, and officers from the Norway police force stormed Bjørnevåg’s home and forced her, her baby’s father Kevin, and Tyler to go to a local hospital.
The family was put on lockdown while Tyler was looked at by a doctor.
Because doctors had determined that Bjørnevåg was not feeding her son properly.
After they examined Tyler, they accused Bjørnevåg of not trying to feed Tyler solids, and only nursing him. They determined that Tyler had a vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as a weight problem.
They concurred that Tyler should have weighed 22 pounds, not 21 pounds.
A one pound difference might seem minuscule to you, but according to the Norway child protective services, it was enough to take the child out of Bjørnevåg’s custody.
Shortly after the hospital visit, she was stripped of her parental rights, and Tyler was taken into custody of the state. The child protective services failed to conduct an actual investigation into the case, and quickly removedBjørnevåg’s rights as a mother.
“In cases like this, you would usually see authorities evaluate the mother or the caregiver. They haven’t tried and are reluctant to even do that [in my case],” Bjørnevåg stated. “They do it with a psychologist who is neutral to see how my caregiving skills are and how I am as a person. That has never even been a part of the case. So they can take a child and remove him without even considering how I am as a mother? I don’t understand how that could work in the system.”
Targetting Of Immigrant Families
Bjørnevåg is not the first parent to be stripped of her rights as a mother. Norway has had similar cases where they have taken a child into the states welfare system and refused to revisit the case. There also seems to be a pattern of the agency removing children from those that are ethnic immigrant parents.
The agency, Barnevernet, has gained international attention in recent years as many have raised voices over the mistreatment of families and children. Many have voiced outrage, stating that Barnevernet has completely overstepped and violated their human rights.
The agency made Bjørnevåg believe that she was the one at fault for Tyler’s failure to eat solid foods. She said that she had previously asked her sons doctor for help, as well as the health station at the hospital, but no one could help her.
Bjørnevåg stated that she believed that one of the main reasons Barnevernet took her son from her was because they feared they would go back to the United States.
The horrific story get’s worse.
Following the removal of her son, Bjørnevåg was granted minimal visiting hours during the week. But after a year of her son being in the custody of the state, she was told she can no longer see him.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Bjørnevåg said.
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It’s been four years since then. And four years since she last saw Tyler on September 22, 2014.
Tyler is now in primary school, and agents refuse to tell Bjørnevåg where.
The child protection agency has also changed Tyler’s name on multiple occasions, to make sure that Bjørnevåg cannot find him. She said the last name she knew of was “Jackob Michelsen,” but does not know his most current name.
“It is heartbreaking,” she said, talking about not seeing her son in years. “I feel like I can’t breathe.”
You can watch a video that explains Amy and Tyler’s story below:
The Unfair Legal Battles
Bjørnevåg did not let her son go without a fight. She hired a lawyer and fought the case before a county welfare board and as well as a district court, losing both cases.
Due to Norway laws, she has had to wait year long periods before refiling her case, in order for it to be eligible to be heard again.
“My lawyer filed for a [new hearing] in June 2017 and it was supposed to take three months. They ignored it for almost a year now. Finally, it is getting up hopefully in the beginning of September,” she said. “I was naive in the beginning in thinking that the judges will look at this and see what is right. You don’t have a chance to win regular court cases here. You need to put pressure on the government, I mean severe pressure for anything to help.”
In order for Barnevernet to remove a child from a situation, they must have approval from one of 12 county welfare boards. 91 percent of the time county welfare boards side with the agency, and against parents.
In 2015, the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs shows that 1,545 children were taken from their parents, which was approved by these county welfare boards. This means that 1.4 children per 1,000 0-17-year-olds were taken by the state.
The department also detailed that only 34 percent of children were returned to their families in 2017.
“The County Social Welfare Board or the District Court is entitled to revoke a care order when it is highly probable that the parents will be able to provide the child with proper care,” Kristin Ugstad Steinrem, who is the head of the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, stated.
When asked to comment on Bjørnevåg’s case, she said that she couldn’t.
She also added that children are taken from homes only when there are serious deficiencies in everyday care. This action is taken when parents are failing to “ensure that a child who is ill, disabled or in special need of assistance receives the treatment and training required.”
“A care order is always a last resort, and cannot be made if voluntary measures can provide satisfactory conditions for the child,” Steinrem claimed.
An Increased International Outcry
The case has seen an international outcry over the years, as similar cases took place in Norway.
In 2015 the same agency that removed Tyler removed five children from a Romanian Christian home because they disciplined their children with spankings. This practice is outlawed in Norway, so the state justified it this way.
There were tens of thousands that attended protests around the world until the children were finally returned to their parents, months after they were taken.
In October, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear their first case against their child protection agency.
Marius Reikeras, a human rights lawyer, stated that this is groundbreaking because the agency has done everything to scare parents away from taking legal actions.
Although there was an international outcry in the past, there is little to none now, putting no pressure on the Norway government to rule fairly in the October trial. In the past, it has left parents “chanceless” according to Reikeras.
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“Without the international pressure, without the pressure from the people, these families are chanceless. They have no chance at all,” Reikeras, who has defended several parents in court against the agency, said. “You see all these cases that are successful but all these cases have to do with the fact that people have gathered and raised their voices together.”
Immigrant Families Are Forced To Flee In Fear
Immigrant families have been forced to flee Norway, fearing that their children will be taken due to their international heritage.
One family noted having to leave because a doctor told the family that he was “suspicious” that the father had sexually abused his daughter. He denied the allegations, as they were not true, but the problems did not end right away.
It took over a year and a half for the father’s chargers to be cleared, which was only done when his daughter was removed from the home by the child services. Even after he was cleared, the child protective agency refused to return their daughter.
Finally, they returned her due to a court ruling, but continued to harass the family and threatened to take her back if the father stayed in the home.
For six months the father lived in hotels until they decided to flee to the United Arab Emirates before the Norwegian government could take their children away again.
“My husband’s police case is closed now and there has never been any evidence against him. Despite that, Barnevernet wants to remove our child from both parents,” the mom said. “I am the mother, and they have not considered me to be suitable because I will not say that my husband is guilty concerning the ‘suspicion’ of abuse. Do I have to lie and say my husband is guilty in order to save my child from their clutches?”
Reikeras, the human rights lawyer visited the family and assured that they are “perfectly normal” and no one should be concerned with their parenting.
“I visited them a little over a month ago. They are no reasons for these atrocities committed by the Norwegian government,” Reikeras said. “It’s obvious that the main reason for taking this younger child was because they wanted to make sure that she had the so-called Norwegian identity without the parents’ religious or cultural interference.”
Steinrem has repeatedly said that the agency does not target immigrant families despite the fact that families across Norway are being visited by the agency.
“The Child Welfare Services work to protect children from violence, abuse and from serious deficiencies in the everyday care,” Steinrem maintained. “They work to secure that children that are in particular need of assistance receive help.”
Targetting Of Ethnic And Religous Groups
Yet the numbers point the opposite and show that Norway targets immigrant families.
In 2015, the AP reported that immigrant children are more than three times as likely to be removed from homes by child services in Norway than native Norwegian children. Statistics show that 8.8 immigrant children in 1,000 are put under the watch of Norwegian child protector services.
The government continues to argue that these numbers are higher because immigrant parents do not know the rules in Norway, but this is not true according to Reikeras.
“That is the major argument given by the government — immigrant families have to adapt to Norwegian customs and laws,” Reikeras said. “The thing is that I have been involved or talked to most families who have been experiencing childcare take orders without any legitimate reasons at all.”
A psychologist, Judith van der Weele, has even argued that due to the stigma around the country, immigrant parents send their kids back to their home countries in order to avoid the unfair treatment of the Barnevernet.
In 2015, she stated that the agency “lacks competence and expertise on cultural differences as well as cultural brokers who could help to introduce different cultural habits and traditions in order to achieve mutual understanding and trust.”
Reikeras also noted that all the parents from the cases he handled said the same thing, that their child was taken for an unknown reason.
“For some reasons they can’t even understand, the CPS system has taken the child based on some kind of lack of parental responsibility that is very undefined,” he explained. “I am truly in favor of Barnevernet taking care of children that really need it. I am dealing with all these families and I see a pattern here. I am really seeing families that I consider normal. That is why I am so much involved in this. Can all these families that have approached me throughout the years, can they be telling the same lie or are they telling the truth and the government is lying?”
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Fined For Speaking Against The Agency
For those that don’t know, Norway has strict free speech rules. It is nothing like the United States, as they constantly decide who can say what.
Reikeras recalled one woman who spoke up on social media about the Barnevernet treating her family unfairly and she was fined $1,200 for doing so.
Reikeras himself has also been fined thousands of dollars for having “too much activity on social media.” In a piece with the Christian Post, he told them he could even be fined for completing an interview with them.
“That doesn’t scare me because I have a lot of support from the international community. It is obvious that they have the same tactics with a lot of other people,” he said.
Bjørnevåg has also faced mistreatment time and time again as she advocates for her son online.
“They try to force you into not exposing it,” she said. “After that first YouTube interview I had, it has been used in every single court case [against me]. They have shown it to prove and to say that ‘She wants to go back home to America and that she is willing to go to the media.’ You stop because you think that you need to obey their orders but it still won’t help. You have to go through social media and the media or else they are just going to keep it behind closed doors.”
CitizenGo launched a petition recently to help Bjørnevåg that has garnered nearly 25,000 signatures so far. The petition calls upon Norway’s minister of children and equality, Linda Hofstad Helleland, to return Tyler to his mom once and for all.
Bjørnevåg has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo multiple times for help, but has not received any.
Though it is not seen often, earlier this year Barnevernet was all but forced to return a 12-year-old from Canada after his parents decided to homeschool him. The parents gained international attention after they recorded a video of the Barnevernet chasing their son down during the winter, and tackling him into the snow. He was returned eventually due to attention from international rights groups.
The October Case
In October the Barneverent will be on an international stage for the first time when the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights hears the case of Lobben and others v. Norway.
The Grand Chamber decided to take the case in April, which is already a groundbreaking victory for family rights activists in Norway, according to Reikeras.
“European court is looking upon Norway and its practices with child care in the way I do and the way other people do,” he pointed out.
“So if we are successful with the outcome of that case, that will change a lot because then Norway will be committed to change the system,” Reikeras said.
The case details a young mother who had her child taken from her and given up for adoption in 2008 after she had given birth at the young age of 22. Her case is similar to Bjørnevåg’s and could set breaking precedent if she wins.
“Of course, after the child was adopted by force, she has never been able to see that child. The court is asking whether this is acceptable or not.”
Reikeras added that the case could “definitely influence the outcome of cases in Norway and throughout Europe.”
“That case will definitely be the most important one when it comes to the history of Barnevernet and the CPS system,” he stressed. “No CPS case has ever managed to reach the Grand Chamber before. I am quite confident we will win because we do see a lot of other nations intervening in this case — Belgium, Czech, Poland and other Eastern European countries.”
Steinrem, once again added that the removal order is “not an adoption.”
“Adoption is rarely used as a child welfare measure in Norway,” she stated. “In 2017, there were 58 forced adoptions made in accordance with the Child Welfare Act.”
Due to the breaking decision that the ECHR would hear the case against the BArnevernet, many families have stepped forward, filing their own cases.
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The family that fled to the United Arab Emirates is one that is taking a stand by filing theirs as well.
“It’s the new Bodnariu case because of the way we are being treated and it is breaking human rights,” the unnamed mother told CP. “It is a scandal to take away children on the grounds of religion and ethnicity. I don’t even have the words to say what we are going through. It is just a nightmare that you can’t wake up in the middle of the night without worrying what tomorrow will bring.”
In the meantime, as an international community, we can stand up and demand justice. You can sign CitizenGo’s petition here, and I encourage you to seek out international justice groups and demand that they support the families of Norway that are being unfairly treated by the government.