Suicides as a consequence of institution placement
By Daniel Hammarberg, human rights activist and author of The Madhouse: A critical study of Swedish society
In most of the Western world, the idea of placing children into orphanages takes people back to the time of Charles Dickens' early 19th century London. Not so in Sweden, where in 2010, orphanages are seen as an essential part of the arsenal the government has at its disposal for coming to the rescue of "vulnerable children." Yet the question is - are these children vulnerable because of their environment, or due to living under a government that wants to care for them? I'm personally more inclined to suggest the latter.
Troubling statistics concerning the mental wellbeing among the growing generation in Sweden today do indeed exist. During the summer of 2009, Gothenburg newspaper Göteborgs-Posten had conducted a survey sent to all ninth-graders in this metropolis, where they found that one in five girls had already at that age inflicted harm on themselves - what's commonly described as self-cutting. As can be expected, Swedish society has extensive public facilities available for helping these troubled children, but can the government really offer anything of value to them? Can these vulnerable children find proper support from taxpayer-financed counsellors and staff? These coming vignettes will have you thinking otherwise; the common theme among all of them is that the children ended up at modern Swedish orphanages, what's called HVB-hem or HVB homes, from its acronym. Hem för vård och boende, "homes for care and living."
Elin, begging for mercy, dead at 13In her youth, a woman named Susanne had suffered a traffic accident and was left disabled - moving around on a walking frame, with a disability pension already at age 20 from not being able to work. The next couple of years, she has three children - two daughters and a son. The first years of the lives of these children would be very happy, though soon the father disappears from the picture and the mother is overwhelmed by the burden of raising her family with her disability.
When her middle child, Elin, born in 1994, is six years old, the social services becomes involved in family life and Elin is relocated to a foster family, something Susanne agrees to since she admits she's not capable of being a mother at this point in time. Elin isn't treated very well by this new family, however, becoming the target of frequent insults thrown at her by her foster parents. She attempts to get the social services to listen to her when she tells them that everything isn't alright, but they don't give her the time of day, in spite of Elin showing up for school malnourished and with discarded clothes. According to her records with the social services, everything is just fine with the placement.
After a couple of years, Susanne starts feeling she's fit to take over parenting again, and Elin also has a great desire to return to her mother, but the social services isn't very interested in interrupting the placement - it's gone from entirely voluntary to thinly veiled coercion. Eventually, when Elin is twelve years old, the authorities launch a new investigation, and both Elin and Susanne want to be reunited.
The social services has other plans, however, deciding to place Elin with a new foster family. Susanne is told that if she doesn't agree to this placement, they will go through with a forced placement under the LVU law. Elin isn't happy in the new foster family and spends as much time as she can on the phone with her mother and sister. On the other hand, she's not very interested in socializing with her foster family, and when the social services learns of this, her phone is taken away from her. As she writes in her diary:
"If you hate life, you have to be able to talk to someone... And then I don't mean psychologists, but someone you can trust."
"The only thing that gets me up when I'm sad is mom and Linda. But now the social services has decided I'm only allowed to call them once a week."
"The only thing that could make me feel good was if I was allowed to return home to mom."Elin tells the social services she's being battered in this family. She implores her caseworker not to tell her foster parents, but they are told in spite of her pleadings. At this time, Elin starts cutting her arms.
Before too long, this foster family decides they don't want Elin with them anymore, and once again Elin hopes she can be reunited with her family. This time around, the social services actually pulls out the LVU law, forcibly placing Elin at an HVB institution some 200 km away from her mother. Now it's 2008 and her short life would soon come to an end.
|26 March||Placed at Carl Bobergsgården as a single girl at age 13 with up to 10 boys, ages 11 to 20, most of them placed there for conduct problems.|
|30 March||Elin is physically assaulted by one of the boys.|
|3 April||She's assaulted again.|
|7 April||Elin is once again badly assaulted and her wrist is radio-graphed due to a possible fracture.|
|10 April||She runs away from the orphanage and spends the night in the nearby forest.|
|13 April||Elin is assaulted by six older boys at the orphanage. At around 15:00, she tells the boys at the orphanage that she's going to go hang herself. Then she walks out and spends the night in the forest again, never to return.|
|14 April||Elin is found dead hanging from a tree - an obvious suicide - 18 days after having been placed at the orphanage.|
Elin had told friends at school that she was both assaulted and sexually harassed at the orphanage, but refused to tell the authorities since she knew from experience she couldn't trust them. Among other things, she was forced to 'entertain' one of the boys sexually with her hands.
Her family was not briefed on any of the fights she had been in. During the autopsy, evidence of 19 punches and kicks is found on her body, with 43 bruises. Initially, criminal charges would be filed against two of the boys, but these didn't lead to any prosecutions, since Elin was dead and couldn't testify. During police investigations, at least one of the boys pleads guilty to assault, but this didn't make any difference. The staff remained skeptical of there having been fights at all at the orphanage. "Neither I or the staff ever saw them punching each other or anything like that," one of them said.
In her room, a farewell letter is found along with her diary. As she writes during her short stay here:
"Let me go, let me run away from Boberg. Let me run off and get out, I can't take this any more."
"Please, I can't deal with this. I'll let go of my knives and fly off to heaven."
"My life is ruined, thanks to the Linköping social services."
"The only thing they do is destroy other people's lives, so stay away from them. If your parents need help, just tell them to ignore getting help, because that's the safest."Elin had apparently intended to become a writer and was in the process of composing a memoir entitled My Sad Life, but this life became simply too much for her to bear.
About a year later, during the summer of 2009, Elin's little brother Simon is allowed to return to Susanne from his foster home - now the social services feels she can take care of her children again. Alas, if only they had made that decision a little more than a year earlier...
(All of the names in this story have been replaced and are those used in mass media articles written about her case.)
The following links will take you to many news stories about Elin's tragic story. You will have to use Google Translate if you do not read Swedish.
Sveriges Radio: Om fallet Elin - "Mitt sorgliga liv"
AFTONBLADET: Hennes dotter orkade inte leva, Elin, 13, blev slagen på hemmet – mamman fick inget veta
To read more on Elin, simply copy the following Swedish text into your net search engine:
Carl Bobergsgården Elin
Watch this video to obtain a better understanding of the overreaching power of Sweden's LVU laws, watch this video.