It was one year ago today, June 25, when armed police, at the behest of Social Services of Gotland, stormed an Indian bound jetliner in Stockholm, Sweden, and forcibly removed the Johansson family. Their crime? They had briefly home schooled their only child in a land which looks upon home schooling families with contempt, and just this week passed a new education law making home schooling illegal across the Swedish landscape. This story examines the life of the Johanssons and the December 2009 Swedish Chamber Court Decision which essentially holds a family captive on the Swedish island of Gotland.
When cultures collide
Because his mother is Indian, Domenic grew up somewhat different from the average Swedish child, naturally adopting Indian ways and customs. Annie, the now 8 year-old boy's mother, believes in a simple life where mothers raise their children by hand until school age. Therefore, Annie and her husband Christer never enrolled Domenic in Swedish day care and preschool and were repeatedly harassed by Social Services of Gotland for their choice to raise Domenic at home.
(Click photos to enlarge.)
In Sweden, it is the rare child who does not attend day care while mother rejoins the workforce. Domenic and Annie were the exception, and not the rule. Therefore, their way of life attracted attention. Mother and child remained home with each other daily, enjoying the most natural of relationships. Yet shockingly, in the December 2009 court decision to continue holding Domenic in state custody, the fact that Domenic was never placed in day care was held against the family. According to the December 2009 court document, "...the parents have taken a risk with not letting Domenic participate in child care and schooling." When, in the history of humanity, has it been a "risk" for a mother to raise her child at home herself?
"Lives in the shadow"
The court has clearly held Annie's position as a foreigner in Sweden against her. You see, Annie's native tongue is English, yet she has learned to speak and read some Swedish over time since emigrating to the country in 2001. On the other hand, Christer speaks both Swedish and English fluently, as does Domenic. Over the years, Christer has done most of the translating and speaking for Annie. Gotland Socials have interpreted Annie's reliance upon her husband to communicate for her as a weakness, as cited in the December 2009 court document, stating, "Annie Johansson lives in the shadow of her husband." If you moved to a foreign country with your spouse, who grew up in that country, would you not also be heavily reliant upon your spouse if you did not speak the language well? Would such a reliance make you an unfit parent?
Annie received her BA from the University of Poona in 1994 and then her MA from the University of Pune, 1996. She also pursued additional education by earning a First Class diploma in Advertising and Public Relations, also in 1996, from the Bombay Institute of Management Studies, as well as a diploma of Distinction in Information and Systems Management from Aptech Computer Education school in 1998. Yet, Social Services of Gotland managed to convince the Chamber Court judge that while Annie has the "will" to be a good mother, she, a multi-degreed individual, hasn't the "ability." The December 2009 Chamber Court decision states, "Christer Johansson and Annie Johansson have a will to act as good parents but lack ability." Do you have a Masters degree, or perhaps just a Bachelors degree? If so, did your degree take a certain amount of knowledge, self-discipline, maturity and "ability" to obtain?
A bereaved mother's "present state"
According to the Johanssons, in the fall of 2008 Social Services of Gotland began actively investigating and harrassing them after the family notified the local school of their intent to home school Domenic for a brief time prior to their move to India. Compulsory school age is 7 in Sweden. Domenic turned 7 in September of that year. At the time, home schooling was still legal in Sweden. In light of the pending emigration to India, the Johanssons were acting in the best interest of their son by making an educational choice which would naturally minimize disruption to his studies while they moved.
Even though home schooling was at the time legal in Sweden, many in positions of governmental authority are against the practice, as demonstrated just this week when on June 22 the Swedish Parliament approved a new Education Act making home schooling illegal in Sweden. In 2008, the Johanssons were met with resistance to their home school plans from officials at the local Gotland schools, as well as from employees Social Services. Thus, the interrogation and investigation of the Johanssons began. Because it was their legal right, the Johanssons stood their ground and home schooled Domenic through his first school age year.
Let's consider this in context: By December 2009, the Johansson family had been terrorized by the Social Board of Gotland for more than sixteen months; had their home swarmed and searched by armed Swedish police; had been pursued by armed police, at the request of the Social Board, to the very tip of the tarmac at an international airport; had watched helplessly as armed police stormed the jetliner upon which they were passengers; had been forcibly removed from the airplane; once back in the airport had been tricked into allowing the Socials to separate Domenic from them by stating they were simply taking him "to the room next door" only to find out minutes later that he had been wisked out of the airport and was headed back to Gotland and into forced foster care. They had endured numerous meetings with the Socials pleading for the return of their son; were lied to when told he'd be returned in three days; were accused of neglecting him because of two cavities discovered in his baby teeth, after the fact, during those three days in state custody; they'd been through three levels of court cases attempting to have their son returned to them; they'd not been allowed to see their son except for one hour every five weeks. All of this trauma perpetrated by the state, and the Chamber Court judges Annie's fitness as a parent based upon her "present state." How ironic that the same people who created terror and chaos in the Johansson's lives are those who now claim that Annie is unfit to parent in her "present state." The Swedish Social Services of Gotland have violated and torn apart a peaceful and loving family. Now they punish that family for their suffering.
Parent's agony labeled "lack of skill" during supervised visits
The December 2009 decision indicates that Domenic and his parents do not know how to interact with each other during state-supervised visits. Specifically, the document states, "Both Christer and Annie Johansson show a lack of skill...There is a lack of dialogue and interaction from both sides."
Since Domenic's seizure, Annie and Christer have battled the fight of a lifetime against forces with seemingly unlimited power and resources. They are allowed to see their only child for one state-supervised hour every five weeks, and are permitted to speak with him for one state-monitored ten minute telephone call every two weeks. During these times of fleeting interaction with their son, Annie and Christer are severely restricted in what they can say and do in Domenic's presence and they are watched constantly.
During one visit, Annie, overwhelmed by her emotions at seeing her son after such a long separation, began to cry. Instead of understanding and sympathizing with the pain Domenic, Annie and Christer were experiencing, the attending social worker threatened them, telling them if Annie cried again the visit would end immediately. Can you imagine being threatened to lose your one precious hour every five weeks with your child simply because you've behaved naturally, as a brokenhearted mother who is losing her child? Is it any wonder all three of them, Domenic, Annie and Christer, don't know what to say or how to conduct themselves under the ever present microscope of an attending social worker? Yet, in the December Chamber Court decision, this family is accused of having a "lack of skill" in meeting each other under impossible conditions. Again, this family is punished for suffering created by the state.
How far must we stretch our imagination to understand the strain a parent-child relationship suffers once social services removes a child from his home? Since their separation, Domenic, Annie and Christer have suffered great turmoil and impossible adjustments. Looking forward to beginning his new life with his parents and large family in India, Domenic instead was forced to live in a stranger's house in Sweden. At the time he would have begun school in India, he was forced to begin school in Sweden. On his 8th birthday, the heartbroken boy was denied permission to see his parents. When his first Christmas away from home arrived, he was again denied permission to visit or even talk by telephone with the parents he's always loved and adored. Instead, Domenic was forced to celebrate his birthday and the holiday season with strangers while the social workers surrounded themselves with family, friends and loved ones.
There are other restrictions, as well. The Johanssons are not allowed to bring gifts or treats for Domenic. Christer's elderly father and wheelchair-bound mother, Domenic's grandparents, close and dear to him since birth, accompany the family to the state-supervised visits. Unaccountably, at times these gentle people found themselves kept out of the visiting room. No explanation or reason given.
According to the Johanssons, the family has been instructed always to smile when they see Domenic and never to talk about the separation. In essence, they are expected to act as if everything is perfectly fine when they see their son. They are not at liberty to tell Domenic that they do not agree with his living in foster care. They are not at liberty to tell him they are fighting to bring him home. Instead, according to the Johanssons, they are to interact with their son in such a manner that would obviously lead little Domenic to believe his removal from his family is perfectly acceptable to his mother and father.
We have no idea, however, what social workers are telling Domenic. If his mother and father are not allowed to speak of the separation and are not allowed to tell Domenic they are fighting for him, does that not leave Domenic to wonder what his parents are thinking? Doesn't that leave a little boy totally confused about what has happened and at the mercy of whatever message the social workers and foster parents choose to tell him? Children often naturally blame themselves for family difficulties. If Annie and Christer are not allowed to reassure Domenic that he is loved, cherished and wanted back home, isn't this little boy open to very serious and long-term psychological damage? We also wonder what might be happening in Domenic's foster life which perhaps he has been forbidden to share with his parents.
It is clear why Domenic, Annie and Christer do not know what to say or do when they see each other. This family has become nothing more than puppets on the strings of a heartless puppeteer. They've been threatened into doing and saying as little as possible when visiting Domenic. The question remains: what has Domenic been told or gone through which has caused him to no longer interact naturally with his parents? Why does Domenic now suffer huge gaps in his memory, as noted by his distressed parents?
National Health Care - How a man's conscientious efforts to regain health were used against him
Sweden is a socialist country. The country's health care is administered by the government, as opposed to private health care where patients enjoy doctor patient privacy. In a socialist system, your health record is the government's business.
In the Domenic Johansson case, Christer's health records from years previous were eventually used against him. After the earth quake and the family's emigration back to Sweden, Christer suffered a major depressive episode. Yet he did the right thing. He recognized his condition and sought help from the Swedish health system. After a psychiatric evaluation, Christer received the anti-depressant medication Seroxat (also known as Paxil). Unfortunatly, this drug can have severe side effects and Christer fell victim to some of its worst, including dependency.
Once more, Christer did the right thing. He recognized his further deteriorating condition and sought help from the Swedish health system again, at which time he was offered the popular Swedish depression remedy: Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). A well informed and intelligent man, Christer already knew the dangers of ECT and turned the psychiatric clinic's offered remedy down. Christer found he had only one choice: to wean himself off Paxil, which he succeeded in doing over several months.
Unfortunately for Christer, health records of Swedish citizens are not private. Any government agency or employee, it seems, can obtain a citizen's records. As in countless other state child protective cases, Christer's health records were obtained by Visby Social Services and the often conflicting diagnoses of Christer's mental health condition in 2003 and 2004 have been used against him in 2009. In response, Christer requested a new psychiatric evaluation. Dated October 11, 2009, the newest psychiatric evaluation documents the history of Christer's struggles and provides a new evaluation and conclusion by Visby Adult Neuropsychiatry Department. According to the report, which was submitted in full to the Chamber Court, Christer is said to be healthy and completely free of any mental illness or other diagnosis.
Even with this latest psychiatric evaluation demonstrating Christer's depressive illness, as well as the severe side effects he'd suffered from the psychiatric medications are safely in the past, the court continued to insist in its December decision that Christer suffers from psychiatric illness. Surprisingly, the written decision attributes this "diagnosis" as "...according to the social services' understanding a factor that affects Christer Johansson's ability to care." Evidently, the opinion of a professional psychiatrist with Visby Adult Neuropsychiatry Department holds little weight in the Chamber Court at Stockholm over an "understanding" by personnel at Social Services of Gotland.
Terrorized into submission
While Annie and Christer stood their ground against Visby Social Services of Gotland in defense of their parental rights to raise and school Domenic at home, after the boy was seized the Swedish LVU system soon had Annie and Christer terrorized into complete submission. As recorded in the December 2009 Chamber Court decision, Christer was obviously a man brought to his knees.
The Decision records Christer as agreeing to everything Social Services of Gotland demanded. The Johanssons agreed to enroll Domenic in school, to obtain all immunizations, to provide any other health and psychiatric care deemed necessary by the social board for Domenic. They even went so far as to agree with the social board that Domenic was psychologically delayed as a direct result of not attending day care, preschool and the first grade. The Johanssons were exactly where Visby Social Services wanted them: in complete submission. A Court truly concerned with the child’s wellbeing, however misguided, would here have concluded that with full cooperation from the family in every possible therapeutic suggestion, the need to remove the child should no longer exist. But this was not the aim of the Social Services.
Catch 22: cruelty at its utmost
By December 2009, six months after their precious son was ripped from them, Christer was a man willing to cooperate fully with Visby Social Services, in an effort to restore Domenic to his family. In a sworn statement before the Chamber Courts, this father agreed to follow the entire care planned devised for Domenic, with the exception that Domenic's care be provided while he continued to live in mandatory foster care. The Johanssons were willing to do everything and anything Social Services of Gotland demanded, so they might finally have their son restored home.
The most cruel aspect of this case is boldly recorded in the December 2009 Court decision. In a Catch 22 scenario, the Johanssons lose their son if they agree to the entire LVU care plan, which includes mandatory foster care; and the Johanssons lose their son if they agree to the entire LVU care plan, with the exception of mandatory foster care. In conclusion, the court wrote, "Question is therefore if needed care can be given voluntarily. In the care plan is, among other things, said that Domenic should be placed in a foster home which Annie Johansson and Christer Johansson have not agreed to. Chamber Court can therefore state that needed consent to needed care is not present. In such a case, the Provincial Court’s decision to give Domenic care according to LVU should stand. The appeals should therefore be denied."
In other words, the Johanssons submitted to every demand of the Social Services of Gotland. Those demands included what some would describe as a coerced court admission that they had made wrong choices for Domenic as accused by Social Services. The demands also included that the Johanssons must agree to everything in the LVU care plan, including mandatory foster care for their son. Therefore, they were damned if they submitted to all demands and damned if they did not. The maximum possible compliance was obtained from this suffering family, including denying their own natural way of life. Then, when they were in complete submission, they were denied everything.
How to understand this case?
The plain and simple facts are these: A loved, fortunate and healthy child was taken without legal process from his parents for indeterminate (and faulty) ideological reasons. His family was then punished for the trauma they had experienced, and because they did not simply acquiesce in the loss of their child. There is nothing legal, nothing logical, and nothing just in this scenario. That it could happen in a modern and supposedly democratic nation defies belief. Any free citizen of good will, in any country of the world, should be concerned when a government has the power to act in this way unhindered. This case should concern all of us. All parents, all families, and all who believe in human rights and human dignity.
Friends of Dominic