Saturday, 10 September 2011

Goverment Decision not to Compensate Abused Swedish Foster Care Children: Hypocritical and Invalid

Early this year, a Swedish government committee revealed a scandalous rate of long-standing and severe abuse of children enrolled in the public foster care system (here, here, here, here, here, here). The deeply repugnant pattern of mistreatment goes way back in time, as far as the 1920's, and is, the committee reported, still ongoing. The committee recommended that the government, besides the obvious task of putting a halt to ongoing abuse and express an official apology to past victims, should offer substantial economic compensation to victims of abuses in the past.

Today, however, Sweden's current minister of children and the elderly, Maria Larsson (Christian Democrat), to big surprise reported that the government will not follow the recommendation of the committee (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here)  The given reason is that a compensation scheme would be impossible to implement in a fair and legally secure way. This reason, however, appears to be completely invalid and, in addition, incoherent with established policy.

The suggestion to economically compensate victims of past abuse is consistent with the way that Sweden eventually came to handle victims of the compulsory sterilisation policies that were in operation between 1935 and 1975. These were offered economic compensation (besides an official apology) and this was swiftly implemented. So, obviously, it is possible to set up a satisfactory system for compensating victims of mistreatment resulting from official policy. Maria Larsson is simply not telling the truth here. Even worse: since she is well aware of the compensation in the sterilisation case, she is deliberately holding out a pretext as good reason.

To this may be added that the compulsory sterilisation program, when it ran, was part of officially condoned policy, enjoying broad support all across the political and religious board. It was also accepted as a part of acceptable professional practice by medical doctors. The decision to compensate thus was an ethical decision, based on the assessment that although no formal error had occurred, a serious moral mistake had been made. In the case of the abuse of foster children, however, it is obvious that formal errors have been made. Not least, official agencies responsible for the administration of the system have obviously committed serious errors of neglect. So, here we have something which is both a moral and a formal fault, but then the government decides not to compensate. This is official hypocrisy at the highest level.

And allow me to become a bit personal: Maria Larsson is supposed to represent a political party the stronghold of which is held out to be politics on the basis of christian ethics, with the interests of the weakest and most vulnerable at the center of attention. How she manages to look at herself in the mirror with a straight face when making the decision revealed today is beyond me: the hypocrisy apparently goes far beyond just inconsistent and ill-considered official policy making. This shakes the very fundamentals of our country's supposed "ethical" party.

But it doesn't stop there. At the same time as Maria Larsson deliver her deeply unethical, formally erroneous decision under the smokescreen of an obviously bogus reason, she has the extremely bad taste of offering the victims of the abuses for which Swedish public institutions are both morally and formally responsible a "ceremony" where an official apology is extended, to which the victims will be invited. In short: spit in their faces and make a ceremonial bow.
 Shame, shame shame!


  1. As an American citizen and a victim of childhood foster care abuse myself, I initially felt appalled by this country's decision, until I realized that it actually makes sense.

    Although yes, apparently there was financial compensation for victims of the compulsory sterilization, there is a big difference between these two circumstances. You cannot fake being sterile. You can however, make up a story about childhood abuse and receive compensation for something that may or may not have happened.

    The decision makes sense to me....don't you see the logic?

  2. I see the logic, but don't agree, and this for four reasons. First, while faking induced sterility would indeed be impossible, faking that the sterilisation was forced is quite possible. During the times when the old laws were in effect, although these gave room for forced sterilisation, there were also unforced sterilisation, since the only way to have the procedure in those times was to use the provisions of the law. This, however, was not considered to be material - the point was never to mete out justice perfect in every detail, but to make a material concession to everyone who felt they had been wronged. Thus, the scheme operated with a few standard sums. The same solution is perfectly possible in the foster care case. Second, even if you were right, this still makes the motivation for the decision deceitful, since - as just demonstrated - having a system that is legally secure and fair is perfectly possible. Third, you can never build systems of justice (criminal, civil or administrative) on the ambition to get it perfectly right every time. Rather, what you do is to decide on which side the system can be expected to err and to what extent. This may vary from area to area (as evidenced by actual systems of justice, e.g. regarding the burden of proof). In administrative law, usually the burden is on the citizen who complains. However, when the system has been revealed to be fundamentally flawed (or in other extreme cases, like disasters), it makes lots of sense to reverse this burden. This is what happened in the sterilisation compensation case, for instance. And, the facts about the Swedish foster care operation that have been revealed are, I claim, grave enough for similar thinking in that case. Perhaps that will mean that a few false claims are made and granted, but so what? This is the price that the state pays for being so grossly negligent over many decades. Fourth, the money we are talking about, if the sums would equal the sterilisation case, is nothing from societal economical or state budget perspective.

  3. Some people who have been involved in the investigation have tons of paper from many archives. Social archives. Such is not possible to cheat with. There are black and white that neglect occurred. It took investigators two years to go through all documents. It's been a long and painful process for many.