Mrs Liz Edner, an artist, musician and graduate teacher of English as a foreign language, with degrees and certificates from both British and Swedish Universities, moved to Sweden to marry a Swedish citizen in 1972. The marriage was unhappy and childless and the couple divorced in December 1984. After her divorce, Liz Edner had a daughter, Anne Edner, also a British citizen, born on February 7, 1990.
Liz Edner and her child are victims of the local Swedish social authorities in Gothenburg, and are practically being held here as hostages. I have solicited and received the full support of the British Consul in Gothenburg, Mr Alan White, but unfortunately, the British Embassy in Stockholm has not been very supportive in this case.
The Care Order
In January 1991, the social authorities in Lundby, Gothenburg, issued an order to take Liz Edner's daughter into public care in accordance with the Law (1990:52) with special provision for ward of minors (LVU), asserting that the child was not receiving proper care.
The baby was removed from her mother's arms by police force and placed in a temporary foster-home for seven (7) months. Mother and child were only allowed to see each other under supervision, and for a few hours every other week. Liz Edner was forbidden to speak English with her child and to call her child by the pet name "Bibbi Baby" she always called her. In July of 1991 Anne Edner was placed in another foster-home. The social authorities decided very early that Anne Edner would be separated from her mother for her entire childhood and youth.
The social authorities based their decision to take Anne Edner into care on an anonymous report that they had received from a man. This man claimed that Liz Edner was drunk when he visited her at her flat. He also claimed that the flat was untidy and that she had no food in the flat, so he had to go out and buy a pizza so that the ten (10) month old baby, who was still nursing, could get something eat! N.B. Anne Edner is Liz Edner's second child. Liz Edner has an older daughter, who was born in 1969, and who has been nurtured and cared for by Liz Edner until she became of age.
However, according to the verdict of the Administrative Tribunal there was no evidence as to the fact that Liz Edner had not cared her child properly, nor had there ever been any unfavourable remarks about Liz Edner's care of her little daughter.
The baby was healthy, happy and well cared for.
The removal of little Anne from her mother induced a depression in Anne and caused Liz Edner to suffer an extreme crisis-reaction so she had a nervous breakdown. After her crisis reaction, Liz Edner was informed by the Administrative Courts in their judgements in 1991 and 1992 that she could not get her child back because she had a nervous breakdown - a very typical Catch 22 situation.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, where Liz Edner was refused a review. Liz Edner was devastated. She came to hate the Swedes and Sweden. She wanted to leave Sweden, but as long as her child was in foster care, she found herself unable to return to Britain. Unfortunately her lawyer did not file a complaint to the European Commission for Human Rights.
After the care-decision had gained force of law, Anne has had to live with two different sets of foster parents. Anne Edner's place of residence was held secret from her mother, Liz Edner, until February 22, 1993 when the social council decided to lift the ban. However, only the address, a box number, was disclosed. Liz Edner has never ever been allowed to visit her daughter in the foster home.
The paediatrician at the child health-care centre, Dr Håkan Elmén, Anne Edner's doctor was never consulted. However he engaged himself in the case informing the authorities that he was strongly against the removal of Anne Edner from her mother, Liz Edner. Psychologists and doctors spoke out against the separation of Liz Edner and her baby. The Consul at the British Consulate in Gothenburg, Mr Brian Morris, the Consul at the British Embassy in Stockholm, Mr. N. F. Green, and the Chaplain at St Andrew's Church in Gothenburg, Mr Graeme Hancocks, BD, all warned the personnel at the social authorities in Lundby, Gothenburg, that they were dealing with two British citizens. The head of the social district assured the Consuls of his considerations.
However, the warnings of the British officials in Gothenburg were of no avail. Neither did the social authorities heed the warnings issued by the language expert at the University of Gothenburg, concerning the dangers of moving a child whose language was developing from one language to another. Unfortunately, those important pieces of evidence were sent directly to the social authorities where they were carefully hidden. The evidence was neither passed on to the Administrative Courts nor to Liz Edner's lawyer. Liz Edner was not aware of the fact that so many people tried to help prevent the social authorities from unnecessarily taking her baby into care.
An anonymous report made to the social authorities in December 1990, by a man who Liz Edner had rejected, was very instrumental in the case. Judging from the reports made by the social authorities, they accused Liz Edner for not caring for her child in the right way. Liz Edner had however not had any contact with the social workers whatsoever, so they knew nothing about her private life.
1 - Liz and Anne Edner were leading perfectly normal lives until the social authorities intervened in their lives.
2 - Anne Edner was a happy, well-cared child until she was so brutally separated from her mother.
Liz Edner was still nursing her baby, Anne when she was taken into care. Suddenly Anne lost her mother's milk, her home and familiar surroundings, her language and her culture and was placed among complete strangers in a foster home.
During the first weeks of separation Anne was placed in a temporary home and Liz and Anne Edner were allowed to see each other two hours twice per week, at a mothers' home 'Birkahemmet'. (The meetings at the mothers' home give the impression that Liz Edner and her child were placed there. In fact, Anne was at a secret address, and Liz Edner was still living in her condominium flat.) The child was being tortured. Liz Edner tells of Anne's heart-rending screams every time they took her from her mother's arms and carried her away. Anne was left in the temporary foster home for seven (7) months. She had started becoming attached to the temporary foster mother, after which she was again exposed to a new cruel separation at the age of 1½ years, when she was moved to a permanent foster home. The long stay in the temporary foster home is contrary to state recommendations.
Also, according to Swedish law, taking into public care should be a temporary measure and the aim of "care" is to reunite the family. However from the outset, the social workers planned for a permanent solution. This is also contrary to Swedish law. The law demands that the social council should review the case every six months, even though appeals may be pending in a superior court. (The social workers at Lundby have informed Liz Edner that they did not find it necessary to follow the stipulations of the law because Liz Edner kept on applying for the care-order to be lifted.)
When Liz Edner realised that the intention of the social authorities was to place Anne in a home, she requested to have her child placed in an English-speaking foster home or a foster home in the vicinity of Gothenburg. This would enable Anne to attend Sunday school at St. Andrew's Church, where Liz Edner was a member, and English nursery school. This would facilitate a future removal to England. Liz Edner's requests were ignored. The social authorities refused to even take up the subject for discussion.
Anne Edner was placed in a foster home about an hour and a half from Gothenburg by train. The foster parents have low education and do not belong to the same social class as Liz Edner. After Anne was placed in the new foster home, Liz Edner was forbidden all contacts with her baby, Anne Edner, for over three (3) months. After the first period, Anne Edner and her mother were only allowed to see each other two (2) hours every three (3) weeks i.e. about 40 hours per year.
A very interesting point that I have to make is that from the day Anne Edner was taken from her mother, Liz Edner, the social workers have tried to find different ways to bring Liz Edner out of balance. The social workers decided that: "The foster home should be capable of tackling the contacts with Liz Edner. Finding a suitable family for Anne Edner is of lesser importance." This is a quotation from the social files on Liz Edner, dated April 8 1991.
The social workers have also tried to provoke Liz Edner in several different ways. For example,
1) they have told her that Anne was stateless, and they offered to obtain a foreigner's passport for Anne who was at the time included in Liz Edner's British passport;
2) by giving instructions to the foster parents to hide Anne Edner's British passport in a safe place so that her mother, Liz Edner would not be able to get it - thus withholding British Government property from its rightful bearer;
3) cancelling visits at will, and
4) by threatening to transfer the legal custody of British citizen Anne Edner to the Swedish foster parents, or to the chairman of the social council, among many other things.
The strain and stress of the situation turned Liz Edner into a mental patient confined at a psychiatric hospital - unable to leave Sweden. Liz Edner had to spend two years in mental hospitals - where she was treated with different drugs to quiet her anxiety for her child.
Limitation of visiting rights
From January 1994 to the summer of 1994, Anne Edner was allowed to visit with her mother, Liz Edner, for six (6) hours once per month. Liz Edner was released from mental hospital "on probation" in the summer of 1994. From summer 1994 to November 1995, Anne Edner was allowed to visit her mother, three (3) hours every two (2) weeks i.e. 72 hours per year.
Liz Edner was released - as fit and healthy - from mental hospital in July 1995. She contacted me, Ruby Harrold-Claesson, in august 1995 with the aim of having the care order lifted, so that she could move back to England with her daughter, Anne. In the application to the social council we suggested a gradual extension of Liz' and Anne Edner's visiting rights and the ultimate lifting of the care order and Anne's return to the custody of her mother.
Upon my recommendation, Liz Edner renewed her contacts with St Andrew's Church and had her daughter Anne enrolled in Sunday school. This made the social workers and the foster parents uneasy.
In November 1995 the visiting rights of Liz and Anne Edner were suspended abruptly. The social workers accused Liz Edner of having threatened the foster mother on two occasions. The social authorities claimed however, that the suspension of the visiting rights was solely dictated by the pressing need to protect Anne Edner. However, Liz Edner had never threatened her child, Anne Edner. Neither had she threatened the foster mother. The great threat was the fact that Liz Edner had a good chance that the Administrative Courts just might decree the lifting of the care order, wherewith Liz Edner would remove her daughter Anne from the foster home. This would mean a great loss of prestige for the social authorities and a great loss of income for the foster parents.
According to the social workers, the threats against the foster mother were pronounced on September 7, 1995 and November 9, 1995. The foster home ledger gives no evidence of any threats on September 7 or November 9, 1995.
In an entry in the foster home ledger dated 19/09/95 the social worker wrote, "Eva (the foster mother) chose to leave after 11/2 hrs - Then Liz shouted after them "Today I am the living picture of a mother, next time I'm a dead picture." The only mention of the word "dead" which can be seen in this passage, can hardly be interpreted to be a threat - in any case not a threat to the foster mother.
The above information is corroborated by an entry in another ledger. There, a second social worker wrote: "Liz called just about every day before the next visit which was planned for Sept. 17, to get confirmation that E was really going to come. Because of the preceding visit which did not turn out so well, Kent (foster father) chose to accompany Anne." (My italics) NB! There is no reference to any threat here either.
The foster home ledger carries the following entry when Liz Edner was alleged to have threatened the foster mother for the second time. The entry is dated 17/10/95 and it reads: "Conversation w Eva S. The visit last week end went well. Kent accompanied Anne. Liz called several times prior to the visit - was unsure about the meeting place. She didn't know either what they were to do at the English Church. They went to a restaurant across the road (rented) for Sunday school. Parents and children together for about 11/2 hours - in English - Church coffee afterwards. What does Liz want? Obviously, they have Sunday school once a month."
The following entry in the foster home ledger is dated 10/11/95. It contains the information given by the foster mother to the social worker, relating the events that took place during the meeting between Liz Edner and her daughter at the English Church. The social worker and the foster mother were speculating over the presence of an elderly lady who accompanied Liz Edner - whether or not she was a journalist from Aftonbladet (a tabloid newspaper). The last sentences of that ledger entry reads: "Eva is affected - it is unpleasant now/with the visits - tel. calls etc. I wonder about the visits under the present circumstances. Police report?" (My italics).
Liz Edner filed counter-charges against the foster mother in November 1995. The police were sympathetic and took her statement, interrogated the foster mother, but did nothing else.
On December 7, 1995, Liz Edner received a new decision from the social authorities restricting her visits with her child to three (3) hours once per month. This new decision can be seen as the social-workers' retaliation against Liz Edner's demand to have the care-order lifted from her daughter Anne and her renewal of her contacts with the English Church and the English speaking community in Gothenburg.
It should also be noted that Anne Edner is never allowed to meet her mother alone. The foster parents are always present. Liz and Anne Edner have therefore been denied the privilege of building up a personal relationship to each other. Anne Edner has been deprived of her language and her culture. Anne Edner's grandfather died four years ago. He never met his grandchild. Anne Edner's grandmother still lives in England. She is old and becoming older every day and she has never met her grandchild, Anne. Anne Edner has never been allowed to meet her other relatives living in England either, because of the care order.
This is a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Transfer of Custody
Since March 1995 the social authorities have been taking steps to remove Liz Edner from the legal parenthood and guardianship of her daughter (vårdnadsöverflyttning). The social authorities have expressed their intention to apply to the District Court in Gothenburg for a transfer of the legal guardianship of British citizen Anne Edner to the Swedish foster-parents, or to the chairman of the social council.
Transfer of the legal guardianship of Anne Edner would deprive Liz Edner of the right to apply to have the care-order lifted from her child, and she can be forbidden to see Anne. Transfer of the legal guardianship is however not a legal adoption. The child will remain the ward of the social authorities, so the foster-parents will never need to feed, lodge and clothe the child out of their own pockets and the child will never inherit them. The foster-parents will then always be guaranteed their salaries to take care of Anne. NB a foster child gives the foster-parents a steady income of around 30,000 SEK per month.
However, on several occasions, being Liz Edner's lawyer, I have informed the social authorities that they have no jurisdiction as to the transfer of the legal guardianship of Anne Edner, seeing the fact that she is a British citizen.
As I mentioned earlier, the British Embassy has been reluctant to protect the interests of these two British citizens in Sweden, saying that it is a question of residence, not of nationality. They also say that every case must be considered on its individual merits and the particular circumstances involved. I do agree with the British Embassy on the latter point but not on the former. I also agree on the fact that The Embassy must respect Swedish Laws and court decisions. However, the case of Liz and Anne Edner is in my opinion a clear breach of art. 8 of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, also a breach of among others, art. 8 of The European Convention on Human Rights. Both Conventions guarantee the right to respect for private and family life. I also find that this case is a clear breach of International Law.
The problems that foreigners in Liz Edner's predicament face in Sweden are manifold:
- that they are at a disadvantage because they are often alone here without family-ties;
- they are often not very fluent in the language;
Swedish lawyers do not make any special efforts to help foreigners i.e. they are subjected to discrimination.
A major problem is however, the fact that the Swedish Administrative Courts (Länsrätt, Kammarrätt and Regeringsrätten) are the willing tools of the social authorities. The situation can be explained as follows: the social workers make a decision e.g. to take a child into public care. The social council (a political body not elected but picked out among local district politicians, the chairman of which can be a janitor) decides in accordance with the wishes of the social worker. The Administrative Tribunal (Länsrätten) decides in accordance with the decision of the social council, the Administrative Court of Appeals (Kammarrätten) decides in accordance with the Administrative Tribunal and The Supreme Administrative Court refuses to judge the case.
A child can also be taken into care immediately on the decision of the chairman (ordförandebeslut) of the social-council, i.e. acting on the decision/proposal of a social worker. That decision has, however, to be confirmed by a verdict of the Tribunal. The system seems to abide under the principle of the rule of law (rättssäkerhetsprincipen) since a court-decision is necessary for the continuation of the care decision. But the system has a great degree of automatism. The Administrative Tribunal invariably confirms the care-decisions.
European Court Decisions
Parents who try to challenge the system pay a very high price - health-wise and economically. It is like beating their heads against a wall. Once the social authorities start interfering into peoples' families, that is when their real problems start. Quite a few parents however, have taken their cases to The European Court of Human Rights and won against Sweden. In some of those cases Sweden has paid the damages awarded the complaining party but the parents have lost their children anyway, because the European procedure demands quite a length of time - often four (4) years or more.
The Swedish Government has however refrained from prosecuting the social workers, the members of the social councils and the judges in the Administrative Courts who, by taking children into public care have caused Sweden to stand trial and lose in The European Court of Human Rights. My interpretation of the passivity of the Swedish Government, in face of the innumerable breaches of the basic human rights of parents and children, is that this is just how the system was meant to operate.
My background may be the reason for my strong reactions in this and many other similar cases. I, too, am of foreign origin. I am from Kingston, Jamaica, and thus I was brought up in a free and democratic society, a former colony of The United Kingdom. In my country, people take care of themselves; no social workers dictate over our lives. I also studied Law and Political Science in Lyon, France before coming to Sweden and taking my Law degree in Gothenburg. I am very critical of the way the Swedish social system works. In fact I am not the only Swedish lawyer who is critical of the system. This is in fact a widespread opinion among specialists in International Law and Human Rights. For further information you may contact Professor Jacob W.F. Sundberg, Stockholm, Chief Justice Brita Sundberg-Weitman of Solna District Court, Siv Westerberg, Gothenburg, Peter Haglund, Falköping, and Lennart Hane, Stockholm, all practising lawyers, among others.
Unfortunately the lawyers who dare to speak out about the system or to cite Sweden before The European Court of Human Rights are all too few. Another interesting name is acting Professor Bo Edvardsson at the Social Institute in Örebro. Assistant Prof. Bo Edvardsson calls the social workers' tactics in LVU-cases against parents and their children "persecution strategies" (förföljandestrategier). One of his students, Ms Linda Ärlig, has written a dissertation on the Edner case and found that the social authorities used 56 different persecutory strategies against Liz Edner.
The fact of the matter is that the authorities which the Swedish legislature created to protect the well being and the 'best interests' of the child, have turned out to be very damaging for both children and their parents. This situation is described in detail in Prof. Jacob Sundberg's booklet 'The trip to nowhere'. (Can be ordered).
Courses of Action
When Liz Edner consulted me in August 1995, upon hearing her case, I informed her that there were two courses of action open to her:
1 - She could try to apply to the social authorities and the three (3) Administrative Courts to have the care order lifted - a process that could take two or three years or
2 - Return to England and call for her child from outside. A denial to return the British citizen child to her parent and legal guardian could be submitted to the European Commission of Human Rights as a reuniting case.
Liz Edner was very hesitant to take steps according to plan number two. She treasured every moment that the social authorities granted her permission to see and be with her child, so she was afraid of not being able to see Anne for six months or more. Besides. Liz Edner was afraid that the social authorities would have accused her of abandoning Anne, which they would use to justify their decision to transfer the legal guardianship of Anne to the foster parents. Liz Edner was also afraid that she would be denied permission to return to Sweden to visit Anne.
Liz Edner became a hostage. She is still in Sweden and she and her daughter are still at the mercy of the Swedish social authorities.
Psychiatric Care Sentence
Liz Edner was sentenced to Forensic psychiatric care with special court review in March 1996. The charges against her were that she had threatened the foster mother on two occasions. According to Swedish law and practice a person's guilt must be proved beyond every reasonable doubt. In Liz Edner's case the Courts found that the foster mother was more reliable than Liz Edner. This case is pending in the European Commission for Human Rights. The application concerns breach of Liz Edner's Human Rights as are guaranteed by Article 6 of the Convention.
The result of this sentence is this:
The same Courts which confirmed the social authorities' decision to take Liz Edner's daughter, Anne Edner, into public care and which also confirmed all the decisions of the social authorities to restrict Liz and Anne Edner's visitation rights, are the same Courts which have the power to decide whether or not Liz Edner should be granted permission to go out on her own or be discharged from the psychiatric hospital. The Administrative Courts in Gothenburg have complete control over Liz Edner's life. Such unlimited power, necessarily, gives rise to a serious conflict of interests.
Liz Edner's life is being wasted away by the Swedish social bureaucracy. Liz Edner's prime desire is to return to Britain and take her child with her. Liz Edner's daughter, Anne Edner, has been denied the right to her language, her culture and her relatives in Britain. This is therefore a violation of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. On several occasions, Sweden has been found guilty of breaching family rights and heavily fined by the organs of the European Council.
I do hope that in disclosing my client's predicament for you I have brought to your attention a situation which affects many Swedish parents and also can affect any foreigner living in Sweden - even a university educated British citizen like Liz Edner.