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BRIS Report 2008


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BRIS Report 2008

  1. 1. tidningen or2t08 BRIS- rep 0 TheFamily conflicts l Psychological abuse andemotional neglect l Virtual weekday – internet #1/2008 #1/2008
  2. 2. krönikaBRIS OfficesRiksförbundet BRIS(National Association)Karlavägen 121SE-115 26 StockholmTel: +46 (0)8-598 888 00Fax: +46 (0)8-598 888 01 BRISE-mail: – Children’s Rights in Society – is an NGO, a voluntary organisation withBRIS region Nord no party political or religious affiliation, which supports children and young(Northern Region) people in distress and is a link between children, adults and the community.Kungsgatan 36SE-903 25 Umeå The core of BRIS’ activities is comprised of the Children’s Helpline and the BRIS-mail, to whichTel: +46 (0)90-203 65 10 children and young people up to the age of 18 can turn anonymously and free-of-charge when theyFax: +46 (0)90-203 65 11 need support from an adult. BRIS also works as an opinion maker and referral organisation to in-E-mail: crease adults’ respect for children as individuals. BRIS works for the full application of the principlesBRIS region Väst established in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. BRIS uses its collective knowledge(Western Region) of the situation of children and young people to inform, influence and create opinion in children’sHvitfeldtsgatan 14SE-411 20 Göteborg rights issues at various levels. BRIS also accepts calls from adults who need someone to talk to aboutTel: +46 (0)31-750 11 30 their own or other’s children.Fax: +46 (0)31-750 11 31E-mail: BRIS was founded in 1971 and is organised as one national and five regional associations. OfficesBRIS region Mitt are located in Malmö, Göteborg, Norrköping, Stockholm and Umeå. BRIS’ activities are based on(Central Region) volunteer work and financial grants and donations from both private and public donors. BRIS has aKarlavägen 121SE-115 26 Stockholm total of about 500 volunteer workers who man the Children’s Helpline and the BRIS-mail.Tel: +46 (0)8-598 888 10 These volunteers are recruited, trained and supervised by employed BRIS personnel. The BRIS AdultFax: +46 (0)8-598 888 11 Helpline – about Children is usually manned by employed BRIS representatives and costs as muchE-mail: as a regular phone call.BRIS region Syd(Southern Region)Östra Rönneholmsvä-gen 7 The Children’s Helpline The BRIS-mailSE-211 47 Malmö – for those up to age 18. www.bris.seTel: +46 (0)40-690 80 70 0200-230 230Fax: +46 (0)40-690 80 71E-mail: Monday to Friday: 3:00 pm – 9:00 pm The BRIS-mail provides personal answers Saturday, Sunday and holidays: within a few days. In the Discussion Forum,BRIS region Öst 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm which is also on, children and young(Eastern Region)Knäppingborgsgatan 7 people can communicate with each otherSE-602 26 Norrköping BRIS Adult Helpline – about Children under the oversight of an adult moderator.Tel: +46 (0)11-440 05 50 077-150 50 50Fax: +46 (0)11-440 05 51E-mail: Monday to Friday: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  3. 3. 38krönika content It is important for us adults to 8 be supportive and give the children space to put words to how they 20 are doing. We know 35 that it helps. 4 BRIS creates the conditions for children to say it like it is 24 Psychological abuse and emotional neglect – on the edge of an abyss 8 Children’s rights - a natural part of decision-making 28 School – teachers in positions of power 10 perspective Stronger child 32 Children dependent on adults’ actions concerning bullying 12 Children’sworld and outer inner 35 Internet – important aduld presence on the 14 – abandonment in the Family conflicts Internet presence of violence 37 Poor mental health on the rise 18 and guilt concerning 39 Addiction – shame addiction Boys – not only acting out 20 assume –great in Divorce children responsibility 41 Relationships help divorces 42 Referrals and assignments 22 silent children Pay attention to the 43 Appendix: tables and figures Publisher BRIS, Barnens Rätt I Samhället Documentation/research: Henrik Brolinson, Michel Address BRIS-tidningen, Devillaz, Peter Irgens, Thomas Jonsland, Martin Höög, Karin Karlavägen 121, 115 26 Stockholm Johansson, Anna Löfhede, Kerstin Sjöbratt, Helén Thorén, Editorial committee Eva Waltré Text Mette Hultgren, Nicklas Lund, Cecilia Karin Johansson, Martin Höög, Peter Nauclér, Gunnar Sandelin English translation Semantix Irgens, Eva Stenelund, Eva Waltré och Photo Johan Bergling, Ingvor Farinotte, Lena Granefelt, PG 901504-1 Cecilia Nauclér. Gustav Lindh, Nova, Anna Rehnberg Editor Cecilia Nauclér Illustrations Lena Sjöberg/Söderberg Agentur, Ad Kristina Schollin-Borg Responsible editor Ragna Wallmark 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  4. 4. krönika Bris creates conditions for children to say like it is text photo Cecilia Nauclér Lena Granfeldt 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  5. 5. krönika “BRIS’ documentation over the contacts with children and young people is a unique informational base. All adults, from parents to politicians, have something to learn from the children’s accounts,” says Peter Irgens, BRIS Documentation Manager. “i think what is unique about BRIS’ documen- are not a general measure of how all children and tation of the contacts with children and young young people in Sweden are doing.” people is that the children tell us about their life However, what BRIS can read from the docu- situation based on their needs, without being mentation of the contacts is differences between dependent on the adult with whom the child various contact areas from year to year. is speaking,” says Peter Irgens, Documentation “We can confirm that several thousand child- Manager for BRIS Support Services. ren contact us because they are victims of violence Children are always in some form of depen- and abuse, and we can also see that poor mental dent relationship with nearby adults, which af- health is on the rise. Through the differences, we fects the communication between them. can also see tendencies for social changes,” says “Children often say what they think is expec- Peter Irgens. ted of them, or answer questions,” Peter Irgens New youth phenomena, which are sometimes explains. covered in the media, are difficult to discover in But in the contact with BRIS, it is the child who takes the initiative. They can hang up if Supportive, documented child contacts 1998-2007 they want, or choose to not send the e-mail. The children are anonymous and the communication Year 1998 12,788 is entirely invisible. 1999 14,341 Year “The communication is on the children’s 2000 18,039 1998 terms, which in turn creates the conditions for 2001 19,358 1999 them to actually say how things are.” 2002 23,023 2000 The contacts with the children are documen- 2003 22,044 2001 ted based on the topic of the call or Children’s Helpline The e-mail and the 2004 22,133 2002 information is then gathered in a database. The BRIS-mail 2005 19,237 2003 “This documentation consequently forms the 2006 21,273 The Children’s Helpline 2004 basis of both quantitative and qualitative analy- 2007 21,401 The BRIS-mail 2005 ses, but,” Peter Irgens points out, “the statistics 0 5,000 10,000 15,000 20,000 25,000 2006 2007 1/2008 • The BRIS-report 0
  6. 6. krönika BRIS’ documentation. Although BRIS nurses a dream about alsoWho contacts BRIS? being better at having “its ear to4 Girls are in the majority in the ground” as Peter Irgens puts it.contacts with BRIS. They ac-count for 79 percent of the Either the documentation systemcontacts. must be further developed to be The average age of those able to discern new phenomena, orwho contacted BRIS was 14.1years in 2007. The average age it may be so that a new phenome-is similar between girls and non must “land” with the child-boys, but it is somewhat higher ren, become day-to-day, beforein the BRIS-mail compared withthe contacts in the Children’s children contact BRIS about it,Helpline Irgens believes. What BRIS can read from the documentation from 2007 is that family conflicts, loneliness and pro- blems with friendships continue to dominate the contact areas. Poor mental health continues to increase with topics such as eating disorders and problems of suicide and self- Peter Irgens, Documentation Manager, BRIS harm. Life issues, such as questions of identity, existential questions about life, issues Based on the documentation, parents can also concerning sorrow and the body and appearance, learn a great deal about the child perspective, are also clearly on the rise. that is to say, what effects parents’ actions have “Girls in their teenage years are in the overwhel- on children and young people, or what an adult ming majority in the contacts, which does not mean should do so that a child feels listened to. the boys have fewer problems, but rather that BRIS’ “The documentation also contains numerous channels do not suit the boys,” says Peter Irgens. fantastic examples of things adults do that are good, “Our channels are based on children and and those that are bad,” continues Peter Irgens. young people being able to verbalise their pro- Those who work with children and young blems, which means that it is not only the boys people also have a great deal to learn from what that we do not reach to the same extent, but also children tell BRIS, he believes. children who do not speak Swedish well enough “Children tell us what they think about stu- or the younger children, for instance.” dent health services or child psychiatry, for in- But for the adults who are where the children stance. Where else could these professional cate- are, BRIS’ documentation has a great deal to of- gories find out how the children perceive them? fer, Peter Irgens believes, particularly to parents. I wish that all professional categories that work “It is notable in all of the contacts that the with children and young people would ask us children want to have more from their parents, what children say about them in particular. We primarily more time. They miss the adults. Pa- could give them tailor-made guidance in how rents can really learn from this.” children want to be treated by them!” In half of the contacts, BRIS The children’s living arrangements receives information about children’s living arrange- Living arrangements – Proportion of the child contacts ments. On the Children’s Nuclear family 56% Helpline, where it is possible Lone mother 14% to ask questions, information Both parents alternately 7.5% about housing is available in Step family 6.1% seven out of ten calls, while Lone father 5.5% only one out of four e-mails Own housing 3.2% provide this information. The housing pattern is very similar Fosterhome 3.1% to previous years. Treatment centre or equivalent 1.9% Other 2.6% n = 10,638 Living arrangements – Proportion of the child contacts Nuclear family 56% Lone mother 14% Both parents alternately 7.5% 1/2008 • The BRIS-report Step family 6.1%
  7. 7. Year 2000 18,039 1998 2001 12,788 19,358 1999 2002 14,341 23,023krönika 2000 2003 18,039 22,044 The Children’s Helpline 2001 2004 19,358 22,133 The BRIS-mail 2002 2005 19,237 23,023 2003 2006 22,044 21,273 The Children’s Helpline 2004 2007 22,133 21,401 The BRIS-mail 2005 0 5,000 10,000 15,000 19,237 20,000 25,000 2006 21,273 The children’s message The 20 most common contact topics 2007 21,401 The documentation is also a very valuable in- 0 5,000 10,000 15,000 20,000 25,000 strument for BRIS’ opinion-forming work con- Topics % of all Child contacts* n = 21,401 cerning children’s rights. “Here, BRIS has a Family conflicts 21% 4,400 very important task in conveying the children’s Relationships with friends 19% 4,091 Topics relationships contacts* n = 21,401 Love % of all Child 15% 3,216 message to politicians and decision-makers to be Loneliness 14% 3,086 4,400 able to influence legislation and resource distri- Family conflicts 21% Relationships with friends 19% Bullying 14% 2,900 4,091 bution based on the needs of children and young Love relationships mental illness Other 1 15% 12% 3,216 2,583 people,” Peter Irgens confirms. Existential/life issues 9,9% 2,123 3,086 Loneliness 14% Internally, the documentation is used for Suicide/suicidal thoughts 9,3% Bullying 14% 1,987 2,900 evaluation and method development in BRIS’ Other mental Self-destructiveness 9,1% 1 illness 12% 2,583 1,942 services and to be able to guide the development Existential/life issues Identity issues 8,1% 9,9% 2,123 1,734 of the activities and prioritise between different Suicide/suicidal thoughts 9,3%Sorrow 7,8% 1,987 1,677 channels. Among other aspects, the statistics Self-destructiveness 9,1% abuse 7,5% Physical 1,942 1,615 show that e-mails are increasing strongly and cur- School problems 7,5% Identity issues 8,1% 1,734 1,612 Body/appearance 7,0% Sorrow 7,8% 1,677 1,492 rently account for almost as large a proportion of 1,411 the contacts as the Children’s Helpline. This is an Physical Living arrangements 6,6% abuse 7,5% 1,615 School problems 7,5% Sexuality 6,4% 1,612 1,365 important signal for BRIS to be able to allocate Sexual abuse/molestation 6,2% 1,321 Body/appearance 7,0% 1,492 resources, particularly since there are still not arrangements 6,6% Stress 5,2% Living 1,411 1,115 enough resources to be able to accept all of those Drug/alcohol abuse in family 4,6% Sexuality 6,4% 1,365 975 Cal who try to contact the support services. Sexual abuse/molestation 6,2% Divorce-related problems 4,3% 1,321 927 Mai Looking at the total number of calls to the ex- Stress 5,2% 01,115 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 change during the year, 440,000, one can quick- abuse in family 4,6% Drug/alcohol 975 Calls ly confirm that the majority do not even reach a Divorce-related problems 4,3% 927 Mail volunteer. Many children choose not to wait in 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 the queue that most often arises, or the queue is already full. This figure also includes those who The most common topics all * Because every call/e-mail concern relationships – in the can deal with more than one call outside the opening hours. family or with contemporaries. topic and all of these are do- “Of course, it is unsatisfactory if the queue The topics of Friend relation- cumented, the total percen- time means that children give up, although we ships and Loneliness have tage exceeds 100%. clearly grown since 2006. know that many continue to call until they get The topics within Poor mental Other = mental illness other through. We also view the large number of calls health are also on the rise, a than Suicide/suicidal thoughts, positively as an expression for children wanting continuing trend of the past Self-destructiveness and Eating several years, as is the topic of disorders to contact BRIS, and as an important challenge Stress. to us to continue to improve our availability. Si- Other “life issues”, such as lent phones would have worried us more!” questions of identity, existen- tial questions about life, issues concerning sorrow, the body and appearance, are also More information clearly on the rise. Fore more information, please find the appendix with tables and figures at page 43. 7 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  8. 8. krönika Children’s rights a natural part of decision-making Children make themselves heard through BRIS and BRIS must therefore become even more visible and stronger in illustrating the rights and needs of children for politicians and the public. “bris is neither a big-city phenomenon nor e-mail from those cities or municipalities,” like to see BRIS as one of the backers of a small-town phenomenon. Children from confirms Ingela Thalén. the project as a part of BRIS making the all over Sweden call BRIS about everything Over the years, BRIS’ activities have de- child’s perspective even clearer in its work. from love-related problems to sexual abuse. veloped according to the children’s needs. Because BRIS is a good children’s rights Children know BRIS; they know that we For example, the BRIS-mail was added organisation, she confirms, but at the same are there for them on their terms,” establis- because children began e-mailing BRIS time self-critically feels that BRIS needs to hes Ingela Thalén, Association Chairper- themselves. In December 2007, a pilot pro- sharpen its tone. son of BRIS. ject was begun through which children and “Children make themselves heard through But what is obvious to the children is young people can chat with BRIS represen- BRIS and BRIS must therefore become not as obvious to the decision-makers, tatives, a trial that Ingela Thalén views very tougher for the sake of the children. We which in turn affects the finances of the positively. need to become clearer when we submit our organisation. BRIS’ government funding “BRIS should take part in technical de- views on various legislative propositions. grant is meagre and is not enough to keep velopment so that we can listen to children We should be tough, visible and indepen- activities running. When BRIS seeks fi- in their own arenas. But at the same time, dent. Because a small organisation can also nancial support from the municipalities, we must work to protect children from be strong and visible, as long as we do not the question is often posed as to how many being victims of abuse, bullying or other stand in someone else’s shadow.” children from each municipality contact wrongs through the new technology. I am Ingela Thalén says that she lives a great BRIS. A question that is impossible to pleased that BRIS has taken a step in this deal with BRIS. The Chairperson position answer because all children who contact direction with the Squill project.” in BRIS’ National Association Board means BRIS are anonymous. Ingela Thalén fosters a dream that child- that she is out in schools a great deal or “I do not think we have succeeded in ren will be able to work with the UN Con- in seminars to provide information about making it clear that, although BRIS’ sup- vention on the Rights of the Child over the BRIS. She meets other children’s rights port services are provided from five loca- Internet so as to learn about the fundamen- organisations and members of the Swedish tions in Sweden, children not only call and tal children’s rights issues. Here, she would parliament, and visits various regions in 8 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  9. 9. krönika BRIS should take part in technical development so that we can listen to children in their own arenas.Sweden. Her drive is BRIS’ feeling for therights of the child. “I think that BRIS has found a space wherethe child is in focus. To quietly listen when achild speaks about something difficult is togive that child what might be the most im-portant moment in the week or month. It isincredibly important for the child and that iswhat grabbed hold of me.” And it is BRIS’ feeling for the rights of thechild that Ingela Thalén wants to convey toSwedish decision-makers, so that children’srights become a natural part of all of the pro-cesses in decision-making. Legislation musttake the rights of the child into account andmust listen to the child in disputes or the pla-cement or assumption of custody of children.“Because far too often,” says Ingela Thalénagitatedly, “politicians realise afterwards thatthey should have acted to prevent childrenfrom being violated, set aside or made to suf-fer.” She uses an example from Malmö, where aschool was forced to pay a record-high amountin damages to a boy who had been bullied. “Some members of the school staff thoughtit was wrong that the school was forced to paydamages, and felt that the perpetrators shouldhave been the ones to pay instead. They havenot understood that it is the school’s respon-sibility to ensure that children do not becomeperpetrators! They have not understood thatthe perpetrators are also victims and that it isthe responsibility of the adults to make surethat bullying and other wrongs do not takeplace. So of course the school should pay!” text Cecilia Nauclér photo Johan Bergling 9 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  10. 10. krönika Stronger child perspective text Cecilia Nauclér photo Johan Bergling 10 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  11. 11. krönika Secretary General Göran Harnesk has two important roles - to create as effective an organisation as possible and to act as a lobbyist towards decision-makers and the public. Because BRIS has considerable knowledge about the needs of children – knowledge which is in demand nationally as well as internationally. becoming a member of BRIS means that one The child perspective must become rather it is proof that we in Sweden have wants children and young people to be given stronger in society in general, Harnesk be- come further in research and development a more acceptable existence in society. Göran lieves, and he is personally adamant about in children’s rights issues. We should share Harnesk, BRIS Secretary General, explains change in the legal system. this knowledge.” that it is the members who choose the boards “It is impermissible that a child is mal- By respect for the child and the individual, of the national and regional associations and treated in the social services or in the legal Göran Harnesk means that the meeting, through their votes they also determine the system simply because he or she cannot act the dialogue with the child must always direction for BRIS, based on the circum- like an adult or speak in an adult man- be guided by the child’s needs, on the stances and conditions of children. ner. Sometimes, crimes cannot be proven child’s terms. “Because what the children “The members are incredibly important when a child is victimised, which is not who contact BRIS appreciate,” he says, “is for BRIS, particularly because they lobby strange because the child was alone with that the adults who answer the calls and for the interests and needs of children so the perpetrator when he or she was hurt! e-mails do not have any standard templates strongly. The members provide the organisa- Knowledge about the child’s perspective outlining how the call should go, or preju- tion with an enormous dynamic, which cre- and about children must grow!” dice about how children and young people ates the conditions necessary for children to Also included in the Secretary General’s think and work.” be able to receive the support they “The child determines seek from BRIS,” he says. the content of the dialogue, BRIS was established in 1971 Children who have contacted regardless of the channel in and is an entirely voluntary, non- us after receiving help and which the conversation takes profit and non-governmental or- support feel that BRIS is the breathing place. Today, children’s needs ganisation. In the almost 40 years are seldom allowed to govern that the organisation has existed, space they cannot find anywhere else. and this is why children con- it has changed to today consist of We are the light in the tunnel. tact us.” a combination of employed repre- “For BRIS, every call and sentatives and volunteers of various kinds. work is contributing BRIS’ knowledge to every e-mail is unique,” Harnesk contin- A large part of the daily activities of the Sec- international forums. ues, “and every individual deserves to be retary General consists of working with the “Compared with other countries in the affirmed and seen.” And children contact organisation so that it will be as effective world, BRIS has been around a very long BRIS to say that they feel that they have and clear as possible. time, which means that we are on the cut- been listened to and that the contact has “Every Swedish krona we receive is a do- ting edge with regard to technology, ano- given them strength. nation, which is why we must manage our nymity and confidentiality. Many are hun- “Children who have contacted us after funds extremely well,” Harnesk confirms. gry for our know-how.” receiving help and support feel that BRIS However, the primary role of the Secre- Accordingly, BRIS participates in vari- is the breathing space they cannot find any- tary General is to act as a lobbyist, convey- ous international conferences and semi- where else. We are the light in the tunnel.” ing, together with the National Associa- nars to carry the organisation’s knowledge Being sensitive to how children want the tion Board, the messages that arise in the further, but also to present the message communication with BRIS to be made is dialogue with children and young people about the respect for the child and the also a part of respecting the child. “BRIS to decision-makers, the public and all who individual. Because, according to Göran must simply be available where the children work professionally with children and Harnesk, there are many countries that need us,” Göran Harnesk says, “The organi- young people. In purely practical terms, still have difficulties in understanding ation may not have any ‘holy cows’.” this means that the Secretary General must that striking a child is prohibited by law “We know that children want to have spend a large part of his working hours out in Sweden. contact with us, but if the Children’s Help- in the field to meet co-operative partners “This does not mean that adults in coun- line is something the children no longer and decision-makers, although his work tries that do not have laws against corporate want, then we must find new channels that also includes reading and writing reports. punishment do not love their children, but suit the children’s needs.” 11 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  12. 12. krönika Children’s inner and outer world during the last few months of 2007, a group of BRIS employees delved into large parts of the year’s documentation over what children and young people have said on the Children’s Helpline and the BRIS-mail. This is a large, and at times difficult, effort and is therefore also extremely important. Some of the chil- dren who contact BRIS live in very vulnerable situations and they experience a deep loneli- ness because the adult world has failed them. BRIS documentation over what chil- dren and young people say clearly confirms that the world of children consists of two parts – an inner and an outer world. The outer world is the external environments in which they must exist: the family, school and out on the Internet. The inner world is the child’s personal and psychological perspective, in other words thoughts, dreams and emotions. The accounts of the children and young people indicate that various kinds of victimisation, such as conflicts at home or in school, affect their mental health, their inner world. The accounts indicate a connection and context between the different worlds. The children and young people often them- selves recognise the actual connection between their victimisation and why they The BRIS Report has an overriding feel bad. And of course it may seem logical, even obvious that children are affected by objective: to convey the voices of what they are exposed to. Yet, far too many say that they do not have a single adult who children to politicians, decision- listens to them, or supports them. makers and those who work with Distinguishing topics In the documentation for 2007, a few topics children and young people. distinguish themselves. Family conflicts, i.e. conflicts in the family that the child does not 12 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  13. 13. krönika The children and young people often themselves recognise the actual connection between their victimisation and why they feel bad. Yet, far too many say that they do not have a single adult who listens to them. cause but is drawn into, are still the single most common reason for children to contact BRIS. Some common situations about which children and young people contact BRIS are alcohol or sub- stance abuse in the family and divorces. We have therefore chosen to present both as subtopics of the area of family conflicts in this year’s BRIS Report. Another topic that distinguished itself during the year is school. Children spend most of their time in school and, besides school work, school is a place for meetings and contacts with both teach- ers and other students. Most children get along fine in school and with their teachers, but for some, school is a place filled with performance anxiety and bad adult relationships. To convey what these children say, we have chosen to make school a separate topical theme. Since BRIS began, bullying and harassment have been one of the most common reasons for children to contact us. Despite anti-bullying programs in schools, bullying remains one of BRIS’ large areas of contact and was therefore made a separate topical theme. Problems in the family or bullying and harass- ment are what the children themselves see as the reasons for their poor mental health. Poor mental health is a contact area that has grown in recent years and BRIS has previously made note of poor mental health among children and young people. But because we believe it to be such an important area with severe consequences for the children, we have chosen to include it in this year’s BRIS Report as well. The children and young people often them- selves recognise the actual connection between their victimisation and why they feel bad. Yet, far too many say that they do not have a single adult who listens to them. NOTE!! Hi, I think about suicide every day because The quotes from children are authentic, I feel so small and nobody likes me. I was but certain information is always altered bullied all through middle school and was to guarantee that no individual child so angry with everyone. Now, every day I can be identified. think about killing myself, I can’t take it any longer!!! E-mail from a 14-year-old boy 13 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  14. 14. krönika 14 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  15. 15. Theme: Family conflictskrönika Family conflicts are the single most common reason for children to contact BRIS and difficult conflicts in the home can be an unexplored basis of poor mental health among children. Eva Stenelund, BRIS representative Region East. Abandonment in the presence of violence text Gunnar Sandelin photo Johan Bergling in more than one out of five calls and e-mails, Families in which serious conflicts take place children tell BRIS about conflicts and strife in often constitute a closed system, where little the home. This primarily concerns serious events information leaks out to the surroundings. The where the child’s self-image is changed by con- children have become skilled at keeping up a stant messages of being unwanted and of being good face and seldom communicate their distress on the way to being thrown out of the house. so that their surroundings understand the situa- “It is not only common teenage conflicts tion. Their family life has fundamentally broken about money, curfews and limits that have severe down and many children live on an inner-plane effects on the child, but rather threats and vio- where they lack both words and self-esteem to be lence. In the documentation, we see that when able to formulate their feelings of worthlessness. alcohol is present, violence in the home is more “Contacting BRIS anonymously then becomes serious,” says Eva Stenelund, BRIS representa- particularly important,” says Eva Stenelund, who tive in Norrköping, who conducted a special re- confirms that many boys also write and speak view of the contacts. about the consequences. 15 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  16. 16. Theme: Family conflictskrönika It doesn’t feel like anyone cares or likes me any- more. Feels like I’m just in the way everywhere! Mum’s boyfriend is always angry at me now days, mostly when mum isn’t home. I’ve just begun cutting myself, because I’m sad every day and night. E-mail from a 14-year-old girl “The children get stomach aches, cannot sleep and are scared of being beaten. They experience a deep sense of grief that settles like a cork over everything. Even if someone kindly asks if they want to come along and have coffee, they react by becoming sad and they often become withdrawn from both adults and friends.” “These children appear to have given up. They I’ve become an awful person who bullies people, want to talk about how things are, but they do not skips school and does all kinds of bad things, sometimes it just feels like I want to give it all up. feel that they can and nor does anyone ask how I feel so worthless. My mum didn’t want to have they are doing. We adults have so many opinions, me and dad didn’t actually want to either, but but we often do not know how the things we say had to take me! They fight with each other all the time. . and point out affect children. Constantly seeing E-mail from a 13-year-old boy one’s parents being mean to each other or hearing that one looks or acts like a divorced and loathed parent can make the children incapable of putting their feelings into words in other contexts.” Unexplored basis for poor mental health Eva Stenelund uses the work “self-shame” as a summary for the constant feeling of being unde- If I complain about the littlest thing mum tells sired, having the wrong appearance and not be- me to stop or she’ll send me to my dad. I don’t feel safe in my own home. One night she threw ing seen as good enough. Many children say that me out. everything they do is wrong and that the adults E-mail from a 14-year-old girl constantly show their displeasure, through a con- stant verbal grumbling and physically by pulling and grabbing them. There are 12-year-olds who I just want to die. My parents fight with me and tell BRIS that they feel worthless as soon as they shout and throw a lot of crap at me and every- see their parents. Eva Stenelund believes that the thing they say builds up inside. E-mail from a 13-year-old girl difficult family conflicts that BRIS learns about are an unexplored breeding ground for the gro- wing incidence of poor mental health. “If one keeps ones feelings inside for a long time, self- I’m a 14-year-old guy who…well… needs some destructive behaviour is not far away,” she says. help. I feel bad, and have felt bad for several years. My mum and dad fight a lot, shout and yell and sometimes it ends with someone cry- ing... it makes me feel so damned bad. The I love my mum, but my dad kills my joy to live, I can’t more my dear mother and father fight, the take it much longer. He complains about every- more I feel how this awful wall comes up be- thing I do. Yells and shouts about everything! He tween me and the rest of the world. I’m really says every day that he’s tired of taking care of me. asocial and hardly talk. That’s awful to hear when you’re 13! E-mail from a 14-year-old boy E-mail from a 13-year-old girl The abandonment is the most imposing factor. Some children speak about constantly being sent Everything I do is wrong. I’m a disappointment to to their rooms, others wander around in town in my parents. When I see mum, I feel like shame is the evenings, some have a key with them and only a part of me. E-mail from a 15-year-old girl go home when their parents are gone or are sleep- ing. Girls in their upper teens speak of finding an older guy they can live with and receive some af- 16 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  17. 17. Theme: Family conflictskrönika firmation from. Some act out and become bullies, but their surroundings do not make the connec- I often dream about a better mum, a mum that tion to underlying causes. The reader may think I can really talk with about everything and who understands me. My mum doesn’t. She just com- that the children should become angry at their plains about how I look and stuff. harmful parents, “but to become angry, there E-mail from a 15-year-old girl must be a relationship that will survive, otherwise one does not dare argue,” says Eva Stenelund. I can’t say ANYTHING to my parents because we I feel pretty bad now adays… I think it’s because fight the whole time… we have NO contact… things are tough at home, at mum’s we just argue I’ve begun skipping out on my lessons and am and at dad’s it’s just tough because his wife angry all the time… I feel so damned bad and hates me and blames me for everything that can’t talk with my parents… we just argue and goes wrong... I’ve even been thrown out. I feel none of us can trust each other... please... who so alone... and it’s really hard with other things should I talk to??? and it just gets a lot harder from everything I’m E-mail from a 16-year-old girl going through… don’t know why I’m writing, but it feels good just to unload sometimes. E-mail from a 16-year-old boy I feel like an empty shell that’s trying to adjust “Sometimes, they wish their parents were dead, but but fails. I’ve held my feelings in for a few years now. When mum has an outburst like usual I try more often there is a strong longing for their parents to ignore it. She has mood swings like a roller to care: ‘If only they could get angry at me when I coaster and I just feel confused and sad from come home drunk,’ as one teenage girl expressed it.” all the shouting and screaming. E-mail from a 17-year-old girl Particularly difficult are family conflicts with an honour-related background. These problems not only apply to girls. Boys also contact us seek- ing support and help. Eva Stenelund speaks about a “triple victimisation”: first the threat from the family, then the loneliness in the vacuum outside the family and lastly the direct mortal danger that the child/young person may be exposed to. I don’t know what to do… dad shouts, calls us things, hits us… he’s doing things all the time… I don’t want to live like this, I just don’t want to… I’ve thought about killing myself several times, but then my mum would be alone with him. E-mail from a 15-year-old boy …especially the shit I get…that I don’t have any- thing to do with…but when I say I didn’t do what they accuse me of, they just shout ”go to your room. I can’t deal with having you here!!” E-mail from a 16-year-old boy “The family becomes larger than itself through relatives, networks and branching, and the child is his or her family, not an individual in a group. This makes it particularly difficult to seek help if one has not been in Sweden very long,” says Eva Stenelund, who feels that it has been a trial to study all accounts of family conflicts. At the same time, it is hopeful that so many children and young people nonetheless take the step to contact BRIS. “I am more worried for those who do not con- tact us,” she says. 17 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  18. 18. Theme: Family conflictskrönika About 900 children a year turn to BRIS because one or both parents suffer from addiction. For many of these children, the contact with BRIS means revealing the family’s secret and many of them assume a great deal of responsibility for finding a solution. Shame and guilt concerning addiction text Mette Hultgren photo Gustav Lindh 18 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  19. 19. Theme: Family conflictskrönika No one or few know what is going on. Everyone in the family is careful to maintain a façade of being a socially functional family. “mum is the best in the world, but she drinks Addiction stands in the way four or five glasses of wine every night,” These children have no direct faith begins an e-mail received by BRIS from a in the future. The addiction stands teenage girl. And her view of her alcoholic in the way and blocks them. mother is fairly typical. “But one should remember that “Children of alcohol and substance by contacting us or someone else, abusing parents are often very loyal to their they have taken an initial step toward achiev- families and many take the blame for their ing change. Contacting BRIS is a conscious mother’s or father’s drinking. They often action and we can inspire hope for change and Henrik Brolinson, BRIS representative assume considerable responsibility for the that the parent can receive help. Sometimes, Region East day-to-day functioning of the home and we can tip the children about various therapy, they also feel responsible for finding a solu- support and discussion groups that can help tion to the problem,” says Henrik Brolin- them,” says Henrik Brolinson. son, BRIS representative in Region East. In Norrköping, the municipality works He believes that this group of children with discussion groups for children and has a specific problem. young people with parents suffering from “Their situation is so charged with feel- alcohol or substance abuse, a function for- ings of shame and guilt and secrecy, which merly filled by the county council. means that they often live very isolated lives. “The main objective of the various support No one or few know what is going on. Every- groups that exist throughout the country is one in the family is careful to maintain a to show the children that they are not alone, façade of being a socially functional family. that there are other children in similar situa- Often, they have not spoken with anyone tions. Meeting other children with the same about their situation before they contact experiences contributes to reducing the feel- BRIS,” he says. ings of shame and guilt and to actually dar- Many of the children experience a strong ing to speak about their situation. It breaks sense of being powerless. They cannot do the isolation that many of the children feel,” anything about the problem and they as- says Maja Höjer, Counsellor at the Addiction sume the blame for their parent’s addiction. Clinic in the Norrköping County Council. Moreover, there is a constant concern for She believes that it is good if the children the parent: how drunk will he or she get receive help before they themselves begin tonight? Where are the hidden bottles? Is it feeling too poorly and that the support normal to drink beer during the week and groups also fill a preventative purpose. liquor on the weekends? “Being the child of an addict is a risk In these situations, hearing that it is not factor in terms of poor mental health. Con- alright with a parent that suffers from ad- sequently, it is important that the children diction and that it is not the child’s fault receive help to realise that it is not their can be an initial help. fault that a parent is addicted and that they “The children would like to find a quick cannot assume responsibility for the parent solution, but our job is to affirm them and becoming healthy. It is also about convey- help them in moving forward,” says Henrik ing hope, these are parents who also love Brolinson. their children,” says Maja Höjer. 19 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  20. 20. Theme: Family conflictskrönika Children and young people who contact BRIS about their parents’ divorce express two emotions: first sadness, then worry about how things will change. The older the child, the more anger comes out, but most often between the lines. Children assume great responsibility in divorces text photo Gunnar Sandelin Anna Rehnberg kerstin sjöbratt of bris in Göteborg has of events that are prominent in every pro- delved into more than 200 child contacts blem area where children are affected by about divorce. She emphasizes that the difficulties at home. The children assume children speak about normal and impor- adult responsibility and suppress their tant emotions. But she has major ques- own needs. tions as to how adults who live in strife “The children are not given any space and discord with each other are able to see for sadness and sorrow because the conflict to the best interest of the child. between the parents prevents them from From a child’s perspective, Kerstin Sjö- being seen. Instead, they assume a huge re- bratt feels that the accounts are about sponsibility for the parents not becoming adults with major difficulties, who fail in even sadder. This is particularly true if they their parenting, but at the same time she prefer living with one of the parents be- emphasizes that the children who contact cause they do not want to be a burden to the BRIS are not representative for all child- other. Or if they want to live more with one ren of divorce. She also describes a chain of the parents than they had before. Some 20 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  21. 21. krönika are also afraid of their father’s anger, parti- talk with another adult, such as a grand- cularly when it is directed at their mother,” mother, a friend’s parents or an adult in says Kerstin Sjöbratt. school. Parents must therefore strive to set aside their own anger and despair. The Someone who listens children have not chosen this and how the At the same time, the children long to say divorce goes affects their future. what they themselves actually feel and In a third of BRIS’ contacts with chil- think. “When do I get to decide where I dren, the child indicates that he or she lives want to live?” is a common question. The with one of his or her parents or alternates girls often send long e-mails with detailed between them. They most often live with descriptions of how everything from sleep their mother, but in most cases it is impor- to friendship is affected, while the boys tant for them to meet both of their parents. are more interested in answers to straight When the family is split, the children questions. often describe that they are afflicted by a “Children need someone who can listen sense of not being able to cope. In such to their worries, but the parents are so full of cases, it is important that teachers and their own needs and cannot manage to set school personnel are observant, particu- them aside to listen to the child. Many say larly when a divorce or separation does not that a new partner of one or both of the par- always entail a degradation of perform- ents causes problems,” says Kerstin Sjöbratt. ance in school. Although the school is an She believes that if they cannot cope important arena, children instead indicate themselves, the adults must take responsi- that they mostly find solace and support bility for the children being given space to in friends. 21 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  22. 22. Theme: Family conflictskrönika When a child in a family has been affected by serious problems, such as illness or criminality, his or her siblings often react by withdrawing in order to not be a burden. This results in them becoming more or less invisible. Pay attention to the silent children text Gunnar Sandelin Lena Sjöberg illustration when a sibling for various reasons takes up the ma- My brother has a muscle disorder and had to be in jority of the parents’ resources, it often results in hospital all summer. The whole family was really sad and I can see that nobody in my family feels good. the other children in the family being pushed into I’m worried about how long they can carry on. I a life in the background. It can be a question of try to do everything I can to make them happy. disease, mental impairment, disability, criminality Please, give me advice! I can’t handle pretend- ing that everything is fine anymore. Help me. or acting out in general that consumes the parents’ E-mail from a 13-year-old girl energy. Siblings of children with diagnoses such as ADHD, autism or Asperger’s syndrome often tell BRIS that they end up in conflict with their sib- lings. But even more common than conflict is that Once I was so scared when my sister and I they themselves withdraw in order to not be a bur- were home alone and she locked herself in and den and day-to-day life worries are suppressed. refused to come out and I heard that she was crying. I’ve never been so scared my entire life, I “When their parents are worried about a sib- thought she might kill herself or something. ling, they do not want to add to the burden. In E-mail from a 12-year-old girl a family that has problems, a sibling can often constitute the only security, but here the entire family is affected so that they themselves become more or less invisible,” says BRIS representative Eva Stenelund. 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  23. 23. Theme: Family conflictskrönika Invisible children A great deal concerns not taking responsibility We adults must think in the parents’ stead. Children who live in the shadow of a sibling tell BRIS about everything about one more step, from the fear that their sister will commit sui- stop and try to put ourselves in cide to their brother’s violent outbursts of aggres- the situation that these children sion: “His temper is taking us over and I can’t find themselves in. say what I think and feel. I always have to be on my brother’s level,” says one young person in an e-mail. My big sister isn’t doing well and it affects me a lot. She is always arguing with my parents and ultimately they get really angry with her. I’m often afraid to go I have a little sister who’s always been pretty sensitive and home from school, want to avoid coming home to a had problems since she was little. It’s as if I don’t exist. house full of fighting. E-mail from a 12-year-old girl E-mail from a 14-year-old girl One common denominator is that the child per- ceives it as if the parents do not have the energy; they may, for example, be depressed or sick listed from work. In such cases, the “shadow sibling” is forced into a psychological balancing act where it is important to not be too happy or too sad, because it can upset the balance of the home. “In these cases, they conform, withdraw and identify with the other family members who are not doing so well. Many times the child has also already become accustomed to withdraw- ing early in life, for example if they had a sibling that was demanding since they were little,” says Eva Stenelund. My brother’s been reported to the police for steal- ing… then it’s not so easy when you come and say what you feel and think like me. I don’t want to be another problem. E-mail from a 14-year-old boy Pay attention to the silent children She emphasizes that it is important for adults to become better at paying attention to children who themselves are not “problem bearers”. Teachers in schools are used to devoting their energy to the rowdy students and are grateful for the quiet ones, and this is also more a rule in society than an exception. Eva Stenelund also thinks that all authorities should acquire knowledge and proce- dures for being able to see the quiet and invisible children as well. “We adults must think about one more step, stop and try to put ourselves in the situation that these children find themselves in. It may be enough if we can convey that it is actually OK to feel good, even if one has a sibling who is doing poorly.” 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  24. 24. Theme: Psychological abuse and emotional neglectkrönika 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  25. 25. Theme: Psychological abuse and emotional neglectkrönika Children, who are exposed to daily degradation or are threatened or violated by their parents or who entirely lack the love of or closeness to their parents, often speak to BRIS about a double victimisation. Because when they seek help, they are met by an unsympathetic adult world, which leads to the children being afflicted by depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour. On the edge of an abyss – psychological abuse and emotional neglect text Cecilia Nauclér a comprehensive part of BRIS’ documented con- “The children who are exposed to psychological illustration Lena Sjöberg tacts with children and young people concerns abuse or emotional neglect contact BRIS because psychological abuse and emotional neglect. they want the help of an adult. They can themsel- “Most often, it is teenagers who contact BRIS in ves see the connection between their background these areas,” says Karin Johansson, investigator and that they are doing poorly. For many of those at BRIS. In part because it is first in the teenage who are exposed to psychological abuse, there are years that a child is sufficiently developed to un- only two alternatives left, either move out of the derstand that something is wrong at home, and house, or commit suicide. Because they expe- in part because a child exposed to psychologi- rience that they are on the edge of an abyss,” says cal abuse contacts BRIS first when the abuse has Karin Johansson. gone so far that the child feels that he or she can- The children describe that they suffer from not cope any longer. serious psychological symptoms such as depres- sion, anxiety, eating disorders and self-destruc- tive behaviour. The children also tell BRIS about My brother hits me like every day. And today my dad hit me and pulled me by the neck and said that I wasn’t unsympathetic surroundings. The psychological allowed to go out because I was home from school. abuse or neglect takes place behind the family’s Can’t handle all the abuse I get here at home any- closed doors and no one can conceive of what more. And mum has pushed me down on the floor so I got abrasions. Want a fast answer, because I don’t the child’s situation is like. Instead, it is common want to live this life anymore, as I do now. that the child clings to a pet with which he or she E-mail from a 14-year-old girl talks, in some cases the child has tried to estab- lish contact with a school nurse or counsellor. 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  26. 26. Theme: Psychological abuse and emotional neglectkrönika Psychological abuse 4 In the direct documentation of the contacts, four percent of them are about psychologi- cal abuse. In a special review of the contacts, one sees that it rather exists in up to nine per- cent of the contacts. Viewing psychological abuse as a part of physical abuse, sexual abuse and bully- ing, psychological abuse can be estimated to be a topic in more than one out of four contacts with BRIS. Karin Johansson, investigator BRIS “It is common that these children have sought Dad is causing hell for me. I feel so alone. I got help, but the adults have not understood the seri- some kind of hyper-reaction shock. I began to ousness of the situation,” says Karin Johansson. cry hysterically, hyperventilated. Cried for 2 hours “The children’s life situation is like an emo- completely hysterically, then I got angry and through things at the wall, one after another. I tional war zone,” she says, “which continues to screamed in the pillow and then threw at the hollow out their self-esteem. The children feel wall too. Then the end was so dramatic be- that life cannot have anything good to offer and cause I had to throw up. If that wasn’t enough, dad said drunk yesterday that I’m egoistical, they have lost their faith in adults. Children that I only think about myself, that I’m so dis- who have been exposed to psychological abuse gusting that he could vomit and that I’m evil no longer feel any loyalty or love to their par- and cynical. I want to get out of here. E-mail from a 16-year-old girl ents, while children who have been exposed to emotional neglect, however, say that they want help to cope.” “They often feel that they need to take care of But after years of psychological abuse or emotio- their parents, but that they want to have some- nal neglect, the children’s self-esteem is so low that one close who cares about them.” they even feel guilt about having waited to ask for “Talking to an adult at BRIS means a lot to the help. “Here is where the adult world fails,” says Ka- child,” says Karin Johansson. “It is incredibly valu- rin Johansson, “when it does not want, dare or can able for these children to be taken seriously and for see the difficult consequences psychological abuse there to be adults that understand that their life or emotional neglect leads to for the child.” situation is almost impossible to live in.” “I believe that one has an excessive faith in the “Many of the children need to have several con- ability of children to handle difficult situations tacts with BRIS before they are ready to take a step on their own and to heal themselves.” in a new direction. But the calls initiate a process “The children also need to learn that they in the child to dare to seek and ask for help.” are good enough, that all of the negative things the adults have said to them are not true,” she continues. “And the adult world must become Mum just cries and thinks about suicide. I try to be strong, but now I can’t handle it anymore I don’t much better at interpreting the symptoms and want to live anymore and absolutely nobody handling the situation based on the children’s ac- understands what it feels like! Just cut myself, felt so counts and needs,” says Karin Johansson. bad. Won’t go to gym tomorrow cause everyone will see what I did. I really feel like crap!! “It is incredibly important that we begin to E-mail from a 13-year-old girl spread knowledge to all who work with and meet children about the consequences of psychological abuse and emotional neglect. The profession must 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  27. 27. Theme: Psychological abuse and emotional neglectkrönika learn not to dismiss children when they come you’re stupid, you fail in everything and can’t do with these problems. Professionals must recognise anything right, I wish I had never had you. these problems, know what they should look for and they must help the children to tell.” emotional neglect means a lack of love and stimulation, closeness and affirmation from Definition: adults close to the child. The children are given psychological abuse is defined by adults sys- no words for feelings and thereby no tools to tematically exposing children to degradation, understand and handle their own emotions. humiliation and aggression. Many children tell Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if about a combination of physical and psycho- the child is exposed to psychological abuse or logical abuse, about parents who express hate emotional neglect. There is a fluid boundary and distain for them, about step parents who do between them. not like them and clearly show it and biological The children tell about immature parents, parents who do not protest, about adults who about parents who are under stress, there are of- threaten physical abuse or threaten to throw ten alcohol or other drugs involved, and about them out, or about adults who say humiliating parents with psychological disorders such as an things to the children: whore, you’re worthless, inability to feel empathy with the child. My parents twist everything I say so that they Our neighbours shout at their kids. One day, I can shout at me about it. My dad is a dicta- came home late and found their daughter who tor with aggression problems. He says that I’m is TWO YEARS OLD out in the stairwell, she sat and mentally sick the whole time. cried. I knocked on the neighbour’s door and E-mail from a 15-year-old boy gave them their daughter back, the neighbour looked really happy and said that she had FOR- GOTTEN her out there, 10 minutes later the kid was out in the stairwell and crying again. E-mail from a 13-year-old girl I hate my dad. Every day he says that I’m a snotty- nosed little brat who shouldn’t have been born, that I was a damned mistake, that he wished I hadn’t been born and mum just agrees! She doesn’t pro- My mum’s husband, my pretend dad, has hit her test or anything. Dad hits me sometimes too, I just several times, once she even broke two ribs when want to hit back, but then I know that I’ll just be hit he beat her. I can’t handle their fighting here at more. Will kill myself if it keeps up like this. Is it my home, I just want to go home to my dad. But when fault that my parents don’t like me? I just wished I’m there, I think my pretend dad beats my mum. I they were dead, didn’t have to deal with those sit and cry almost every night because she’s hurt damned idiots. and sad. E-mail from a 15-year-old girl E-mail from a 12-year-old girl 27 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  28. 28. krönika 28 1/2008 • The BRIS-report
  29. 29. Theme: School, bullying and a virtual weekday bokslut 2007krönika Teachers in positions of power text photo Nicklas Lund Lena Granefelt Children talk about the school from different aspects when they contact BRIS. In many cases, they bring up thoughts and feelings about performance and being tired of school. They perceive a great deal of pressure, talk about the stress surrounding marks and feelings of being “stuck” in school work. Some say that they feel condemned because they messed up or because they do not have the personal pre-requisites to succeed. 29 1/2008 • The BRIS-report