Danish authorities lack an understanding of cultural differences when placing Greenlandic children in care 

Children with Greenlandic parents have a higher chance of been taken into care homes in Denmark partly due to language and cultural understandings with Danish authorities.
Children of Greenlandic decent is often taken because of their parents’ situation. For Danes its more often because of the child’s own behavior, report states.
Photo: Michał Parzuchowski/Unsplash

Copenhagen, Denmark (TP).

Children of Greenlandic parents are placed in children’s homes five to seven times more often than those of Danish parents in Denmark, shows a research paper produced by the Danish National and analysis Centre for Welfare VIVE published on Tuesday.

Danish researcher and author of the paper, Karen Margrethe Dahl, said that some of the placements could have been prevented if the relationship between caseworkers and parents of Greenlandic children in Denmark had been better. The caseworkers are employed by the Danish municipalities and evaluate whether children should be placed in care at a children’s home or a host family.

‘The parents are reluctant to cooperate with caseworkers when they feel misunderstood and have preconceptions of being discriminated against. That contributes to a bad process, which in the end will affect children,’ Dahl said in a press release.

Cultural misunderstandings happen when Greenlandic parents and Danish caseworkers have different perceptions of what a good upbringing or family life is. This can also show at meetings where parents seem passive in the eyes of a caseworker, while the parents’ own understanding is that being withdrawn and humble is a sign of respect.

‘Parents can feel misunderstood and criticised for something in their parenthood, that they perceive as normal in Greenland,’ Dahl explains to Greenlandic Broadcaster KNR.

While the cultural differences do not play a decisive role when a caseworker concludes whether a child needs to move to a children’s home, misunderstandings occurring during cases can make it difficult for parents to take a positive stance during meeting times with their children, once they are placed out of their parent’s care, the report stated.

Flawed psychology test

An issue that was highlighted in the report is the psychological tests that parents must go through during a case where a child might be placed in a children’s home. These tests have been criticised for not taking Greenlandic culture into account, possibly giving flawed results, Danish broadcaster DR reported last week.

Greenlandic parents in Denmark are judged based on psychological tests that are developed for Western cultures. Critics have said that the analysis of facial expressions and figures is not designed to include Greenlandic culture.

‘Every psychological test we use is made for Western populations because many of them are developed in the US and England and are adapted to the Danish context. When we use tests crossing through culture and language – for example, Greenlanders, there’s a risk to misjudge them,’ says Rune Nielsen, senior researcher at Denmark’s biggest hospital, Rigshospitalet, where he investigates cultural flaws in psychological testing.

‘It can indicate a deviating personality if you say something that may doesn’t fit into a normal Danish context,’ Nielsen says.

Lacking knowledge of language and culture

Another focus of the report is the language barrier. In some cases, there are no translators present when Greenlandic parents and caseworkers meet. Sometimes caseworkers are having a difficult time estimating whether parents need a translator, and practical issues of finding a translator also pose a challenge.

‘Sometimes, we see that parents don’t see the need for a translator because they speak sufficient Danish. But that may not be enough for the language used during meetings that have such a decisive element,’ Dahl says.

But it is not only the Danish municipalities having difficulties understanding language and culture among indigenous communities within their realm when providing public support.

Last week, the Postcolonial wrote about the critical lack of Sami language and cultural competencies among social workers in 13 Sápmi Norwegian municipalities, which also has consequences for the people indigenous Norway is governing.

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The Postcolonial | Copenhagen | CVR: 41032421

Lasse Sørensen (Founding Editor-In-Chief)

Suvi Loponen (Deputy Editor)