A child welfare case in Norway that has been grabbing headlines and stirring protests worldwide came to a sudden end late last week.
The story, which I covered in depth for The Federalist in April, centers on Marius and Ruth Bodnariu and their five young children. Marius, a Romanian citizen, and Ruth, a native Norwegian, first ran afoul of Norway’s child protective services (called Barnevernet) in November 2015. After privately interviewing the family’s two oldest daughters at school, Barnevernet abruptly took all five children into emergency custody: first the girls, then the younger boys, and finally the three-month-old baby.
Charges focused on the family’s occasional use of physical discipline (which is banned in Norway), but lawyers pointed to troubling CPS statements about the Bodnarius’ Christian faith, suggesting religious discrimination had also played a role. Despite medical exams and interviews with family members, doctors, and neighbors, Barnevernet was unable to find any evidence of abuse. Still, the children were split up among three foster homes, where they stayed for months with minimal parental contact.
What Came of the International Outcry
What began as one family’s harrowing story soon widened into an overall look at Barnevernet’s practices and raw power. Norwegian law grants enormous authority to local CPS offices, allowing them to seize children, place them in foster care, and even move to terminate parental rights, completely outside the framework of the judicial system and its rules of due process. Moreover, as the BBC documented in its report on the Bodnariu case, the number of children seized by Barnevernet has risen sharply in recent years, with a lopsided impact on children of foreign parents. In many cases, like in Marius and Ruth’s, Barnevernet never even bothered to offer counseling or services designed to keep the family together.
The Bodnarius’ story soon sparked anti-Barnevernet protests at Norwegian embassies and consulates around the world. While Norway defended itself in the press, the Bodnarius’ infant son, Ezekiel, was quietly returned to his parents this April. Still, the local CPS pushed forward with its plan to declare the four older children permanent wards of the state. A final set of hearings—before a non-judicial “County Social Welfare Board”—began on May 30, 2016.
On Friday, June 3, the family website joyously announced the results of those hearings: Barnevernet had finally been forced to drop its case against Marius and Ruth Bodnariu, reaching an agreement to return their children. Because the case was dropped rather than ruled upon, there can be no appeal. After seven long months, Eliana, Naomi, Matthew, and John will finally come home.
According to a lawyer for the family, this outcome was reached after four days of hearings before the five-person county board. On the fourth day, the board encouraged lawyers for both sides to come to a settlement, but they were initially unable to do so. Finally, on Friday, Barnevernet got the hint that the board…