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- Experiences and challenges of the Child Welfare Services (CWS) in cases about ethnic minority girls who have been exposed to severe control and vio...
Experiences and challenges of the Child Welfare Services (CWS) in cases about ethnic minority girls who have been exposed to severe control and violence at home.Author(s):
This is the report from a research project commissioned by the Ministry of Children and Equality. The study has investigated the experiences and challenges of the Child Welfare Services (CWS) in cases about ethnic minority girls who have been exposed to severe control and violence at home.
The analysis builds on individual and group interviews with altogether 72 persons from the following groups:
- 12 young women with experience from the CWS
- 10 municipal CWS offices
10 regional offices in charge of foster care service and 10 offices in
charge of residential child care institutions (Bufetat)
- 9 foster homes and youth care homes
The young women’s experience
The girls and young women that have been interviewed for this project are of different national and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of them are born in Norway while others have lived here since their childhood or teens. Their commonality is to have grown up in a classical patriarchal family with a strict gender and age hierarchy. The informants have experienced strong, restrictive control during their puberty. Most of the women in our data material have experienced physical violence, and all of them have experienced psychological violence including sexualized verbal abuse. Control of female sexuality and concerns for family honor is central to the rationality of the violence, although the abuse may also be related to the perpetrator’s drug abuse, psychological problems and/or trauma.
The study finds a clear divide between the young women that are satisfied with the help provided by the CWS and those who feel misunderstood and overlooked. The latter feel that the CWS were not able to look beyond the young women’s unrestrained and aggressive behavior. Some of the informants also claim that the support system did not understand the complexity and the extensiveness of the family’s control.
The young women’s accounts speak of different current challenges due to an authoritarian upbringing of strong control and violence. Independence and relationship building are central challenges – some have strived to learn how to trust their own decision-making and their own feelings while others are most concerned with not being controlled. Building sustainable and healthy relationships becomes a challenge when one is restricted from having friends outside the family and the minority community. Some also have experiences with boyfriends that were controlling and violent.
Current family contact is variable. Some of the informants have broken ties with their family, while others maintain limited contact. One of the women have moved back after the CWS’ placement, as both the father and the family has shown flexibility and potential for change.
The CWS’ experience
Our data show that the school is the first to express concern to the CWS after the girl has opened up about her problems. The CWS then proceeds to speak with the girl alone, before contacting the parents or spending additional time with her.
Apparently, it is relatively common that the girl withdraws her account of family violence and control, usually early in the process or after being placed in care by the CWS. A key challenge for the CWS is to prevent the girl’s retreat, which may happen because of family pressure or lack of support from the CWS and other helpers. The study indicates that the CWS needs to understand the young unmarried woman’s position in the family’s gender and generational hierarchy. Joint meetings with the girl and her parents should be avoided early in the process. Concerning the initial phase of the case, the report discusses the possibility to move slowly and cautiously in those cases where there has not been violence or other acute incidences. Collaboration between the school and the CWS is central to support the girl over time.
The CWS has dismissed several cases because of the girl’s withdrawal. If this occurs, we advise the CWS to emphasize information collected from outside the girl’s family and relatives. If the case is dismissed, concern should be noted so the file can reopen after 6 months.
It is recurrent that the girl is indecisive, moving back and forth between the family home and the institution/foster home. Such alternation can be the result of family pressure and the girl’s hardship and feelings of guilt, while it also is an expression of the girl’s divisive life situation. The CWS should make an effort to hold an open door for both the girl and her family.
The study shows that not only the parents perpetrate violence and control. Several informants speak of older brothers that are restrictive and violent. Other relatives and family members, living in Norway or abroad, may also be involved.
In CWS’ experience, it is challenging to establish and sustain a dialogue with the parents, as both parents and girls can be skeptical of the CWS’ intervention. Some of the parents lack knowledge and insights into the lives of Norwegian youths, and the severe restrictions they impose are partly due to their fears and concerns. It is important that the CWS follow up on the parents and the family after out-of-home placement in order to avoid pressure on the girl. The CWS should consider family follow-up as a part of their safety routines.
Girls who are placed outside the home may suffer from both strong fear of and a strong longing for their family. Strict safety measures may increase the girl’s isolation, to the point that she contacts her family, sometimes without the helpers’ knowledge. The level of knowledge concerning safety measures vary within the CWS. There is a need for increased competency on risk assessment and safety work, including cooperation with the police. Some CWS offices should take safety more seriously. On the other hand, the study shows a tendency of defining honor-related cases as dangerous per se. This may trigger strict safety measures without a thorough, individual assessment. Several interviewees are concerned that such measures will be counterproductive and distressing for the girl. A constructive dialogue between the CWS and the police should seek solutions that are realistic and adapted to each individual girl.
The study shows that there is considerable expertise in some parts of the CWS. However, the expertise is often restricted to especially dedicated individuals, both within and outside the CWS. It appears that the CWS sometimes prefers to discuss cases with informal experts on an ad hoc basis, rather than to contact the national expert team on forced marriage and honor based violence.
The report recommends a review of the risk and safety procedures of the CWS, including routines for the cooperation with the police on risk assessment and safety plans.
We advise that a legal review be carried out on how severe, authoritarian control of young people should be regarded in relation to the child protection law.
Cases on severe control often involves girls in their late puberty and girls who are approaching 18 years. The CWS should be aware that getting older does not imply getting more freedom and autonomy. The control and restrictions do not cease when the girl reaches the formal age of maturity. This implies, for instance, that the CWS should be open to placing girls even if they are close to 18 years of age.
Information and trust-building campaigns about the CWS among immigrants should not only be directed at adults but also target children and young people.
978-82-7894-673-2 (print) / 978-82-7894-674-9 (online)
0808-5013 (print) / 1893-9503 (online)