Play Parks and Dog Forests

Once, on a warm spring day, I suggested to my friend that I take her kid to the play park. It was lovely weather and my friend was sick. The kid had recently become very difficult, a reaction to the divorce.

Picture it: a childless woman in her late twenties with a 4 year old in a playpark. I kept her entertained with see-saws and swings and helping onto climbing frames. We played some hide and seek in the woods around the equipment. We had a good time. Until the little one was in the mood to push in the line for the climbing frame.

The kid she wanted to push in front of was about 2 years old. If she pushed him out of the way, it would hurt him. I tried using my words but she was not in a listening mood. I tried to explain how important looking out for each other is. I tried going over the concept of ‘turns’ again. Nothing. So, I held her back. She screamed bloody murder, cursed my name, cursed my family. And then once the boy had made it up to the top, I let her go and she forgot all about her anger and asked me sweetly to help her up.

I looked around for adult moral support. The park is lovely but not very busy even at peak times. The only other adult was the dad of the 2 year old and he avoided my eye contact like one avoids staring at the sun. I was doing something wrong. Was it my accent? Was it the way I was hands on? Should I have let them work it out for themselves, even if his kid inevitably came off the worse? There was no way of knowing because he refused to acknowledge my existence.

I put her on the swings and sat on a bench. Other kids came to play, their adults sat on benches too. Nowhere near me. Not making eye contact. Not looking my way at all. Not interacting with their kids either. Just letting them get on with it.

Ahh, the Danish way, making kids more independent. Allowing them to discover their own limits, negotiate their own boundaries. Not for me, but that is not really for me to judge for others. Not for me to judge either, this bubble around Danish adults making friendly informal temporary contact between others impossible.

Fast forward four years and I have a puppy now. She is 6 months old and in some ways has a better sense of propriety around turn taking and interacting with her dog peers than that small child back then. She knows when to back off and when to play and she respects the limits of smaller and younger dogs. This isn’t something we have taught her, particularly, she figured it out in her litter. We reinforce, of course, at home but dog body language is not even our second language and we mimic imperfectly. We take her to the dog forest so she can play with other dogs and run around in a stimulating environment.

Our dog is a scaredy pants and if a bigger dog, no matter how friendly, interacts with her, she squeals and lies on her back. She does this for about 15 minutes, gains confidence and then plays nicely with them. I can see the other dogs are playing nicely: body language, facial expressions, vocalisations all add up to “Hello little dog, let’s play fight, ok?” But she’s crying out like she is being killed until she gets used to them which is a little disconcerting for anyone that does not know her. The owners call their dogs off. “He’s not usually like this! Would you like me to tell him to stop? Messi GET DOWN”

They interact with their dogs and teach them right from wrong, not just about play fighting but all types of play. They ask how old our dog is, tell us about their dog and interpret the body language of all the participants. No one sits on a bench and ignores their dog at any point. Only once has my accent been interpreted as a cloak of invisibility. The dog park is intensely social for the humans as they trade dog tips and stories.

Dogs are not trusted to work out their limits for themselves and the humans feel no problem with telling them off when they step out of line.

What happened to Danish society that the adults feel like giving structure or boundaries to their children is inappropriate when they understand that their pets need gentle reinforcement of how to play nicely? Where do they imagine their children are learning these skills if not explicitly from adults? Why is chatting to other parents in the park verboten but to other dog owners de rigeur? It makes no sense to this outsider.

News Translation: Danish Nurseries

Denmark, we’ve got a problem. Daycare in many countries has to compete with stay-at-home parents, nannies and childminders. In Denmark, childminders are the only real competition. With no serious competition, daycare has been allowed to race to the bottom. A researcher has studied what is going on and the Danish media has gone bananas. 

Taken from politiken: Expert “Break with ‘legalise hash and free milkshake’ pedagogy”

Many children in Danish nurseries go around like senseless “penguins” and the loss of adult contact is so pronounced that it damages the development of the children’s brains.

So says the PhD Ole Henrik Hansen from the Institute for Education and Pedagogy (DPU) at Aarhus University. He has video footage and a good 8000 observations spread over 26 children in nine nurseries in the greater Copenhagen area together with questionnaires from 40 000 daycare workers in the country-wide investigation on how it really is in nurseries here.

And it’s not an uplifting picture that Ole Henrik Hansen can give of the conditions.

“It’s only 12.5% of institutions that plan their work. Most daycare workers turn up to work in the morning, sit in a circle and plan their work from there. Imagine if that went on in your child’s school. It would definitely be totally outrageous,” said Ole Henrik Hansen to politiken.

Anything goes in nurseries

The expert certainly doesn’t handle Danish daycare workers with kid gloves.

For many years he has investigated – and criticised – conditions in Danish nurseries. According to Ole Henrik Hansen the problem is that children experience a “legalise-hash-and-free-milkshake-pedagogy” in institutions.

“Anything goes in nurseries. An uneducated colleague can come in and be listened to in the staff meeting- and be taken seriously. At the same time we hold the world record for how early with put our children in nurseries. But we ought to reflect on if institutions are going about it in the right way,” said Ole Henrik Hansen.

He suggests that many Danish nurseries be closed because the level of provision of stimulation and child development is so low.

“We have the attitude about child development in Denmark, that children have to explore things for themselves. It’s fair enough for constructive, strong children. But for the quiet children, and those that are crawling up the walls, it is unfortunate. And it means that years after what happened in nursery, we must use an enormous amount of money on including those children,” said the expert.

Free play or organised activities?

Ole Henrik Hansen’s goal is to do away with unengaged daycare workers who according to him can be found in a large number of institutions country-wide.

But also, that we at the municipal and regional do away with what he calls “hippy-pedagogy”.

“We need to plan daycare worker’s time better and create relationships with smaller groups of children, so that daycare workers have a better opportunity to monitor children. At the same time, there’s a need for leadership that can separate the professional from the personal. It’s a problem when leaders cannot see to it that children  thrive and afterwards pass the buck,” said Ole Henrik Hansen to politiken.


The only upside in relation to this problem, according to the expert from Aarhus University is that there is actually is a will to do something. And that people, including politicians have already started looking at whether free play or organised activities are the way forward.

He is currently engaged with yet another study with 20 borough councils that goes under the name “Child-at-the-centre”

Simultaneously he is sitting on a task force group set up by Children and Teaching minister Christine Antorini (S)

“We will soon have some recommendations and I really hope that Christine Antorini understands what has happened in the area. Luckily we can see that many daycare workers are ready to look forward instead of back. Also even though I say many hard things to them about how they work,” said Ole Henrik Hansen.

Taken from politiken: “Expert: Conditions are shocking in Danish nurseries”

Small children are left to themselves to a high degree and met with rejection and indifference by daycare workers.

Daycare workers in the country’s nurseries fail the youngest which results in them shutting down emotionally, shows a new PhD thesis.

Small children all the way down to 10 months are being left to themselves a great deal and met with rejection and indifference from daycare workers, documents video footage and a good 8000 observations spread over 26 children in nine nurseries in the greater Copenhagen area and the questionnaires from 40 000 daycare workers over the entire country, according to Berlingske Tidende.

“Danish nurseries are so miserable that a great deal of them ought to be closed,” said PhD Ole Henrik Hansen who is behind the report.

He says that rejection from the daycare workers gets the children walkring around like senseless “penguins” and the loss of adult contact is so serious that it damages the development of the brain.

Rather have better leadership than more workers

The answer is not more daycare workers, believes Ole Henrik Hansen:

“It’s about organisation and leadership.

“With how things work in many nurseries, we could employ as many daycare workers without the children getting anything out of it,” said Ole Henrik Hansen.

At the Daycare Worker Group Bupl, they are familiar with the recordings.

” Ole Henrik Hansen points out some important things to get the focus onto the children,” said the chair of Bupl Henning Pedersen to Berlingske Tidende.

“But he paints somewhat of a simplistic picture which does not take into account the working conditions of daycare workers in nurseries,” he added.

14 month old boy closed into himself

The chair for the National Parental Association , Fola, Lars Klingenberg, has seen a recording of a small boy of 14 months closing into himself after he was ignored by a daycare worker.

“It really affected me a lot because it is totally clear to see what has happened. It goes straight to the heart of everyone – especially us parents,” said Lars Klingenberg to Berlingske.

Translating the News: Parental Competence Cases

This took a long time to translate. I wanted to get it out there because I think a lot of people who go around praising Denmark to the heavens have no idea how anything works here because it is hidden behind layers of the Danish language. Sure you can google translate but how would you know which articles and what can you make of sentences like “Neither is self-evident in the municipalities,” if you do not have a smattering of Danish. I would also like to point you in the direction of Only in Denmark for a selection of news stories about Denmark in English.

I understand that you WANT Denmark to be a wonderful shining example of how to do things but it does have major weaknesses. As you will see in this article, some people are working hard to make things right but they face incredible resistance and are not always successful.

The cultural expectation is that professionals are trustworthy and know what they are doing. In the cases where only one or neither of those things are true, there are no safety nets. Everything is left up to interpretation and then set it stone, never to be interpreted again.

Denmark is also crippled by a belief that there is nothing to learn from “experts”. Everyone invents their own wheel here or else does What Has Always Been Done. Practically, that means studies of effectiveness or quality are rarely conducted. If they are, they are waved away by those wish to try something similar with such reasoning as “our town is smaller than the town in the study, we will be different.”

I get a lot of “Well, it’s like anywhere then! You’d get this in <insert country>!”
Denmark is not some Shangri La. There is a lot of serious incompetence which result in horrifying decisions being made. You have taken exactly my point.

Translated from: Methodological freedom does not involve due process in custody cases


When borough councils have to identify parents who are harming their own children, they have a free hand in methodology, time frame and professionals consulted. There are no exact rules for how the sensitive parental competence investigations have to be conducted, even though they are often key in the cases where children are removed from the home.

The result is that there is an enormous variation of how thorough investigations that judge the ability to take care of children are. Even though the investigations have become commonplace in forced removal cases, there are no minimum requirements in the investigations which are not even mentioned in our laws.

Therefore there are, for example, no requirements that a registered psychologist should be consulted or that the parents and the child should be observed together. Neither are a matter of course in the municipal boroughs. (As shown by a survey by P1)

In the survey, 61 boroughs gave widely different descriptions of what a parental investigation is. While some boroughs use up to half a million on observing the whole family in a family institution for several months, in some places manage to conduct parental competence investigations for a few thousand kroner, by one social worker reading the files from local government workers and daycare workers.

Lawyers with great experience in the area experience also a sharp variability in quality of the investigations.

“It can be very superficial, what happens. Perhaps, they are not with the parents for a long time or they don’t see the parents interact with the child. It is very inadequate in practice,” said lawyer Bjarne Overmark.

He has represented a normally functioning Asian woman, who was written up in a parental investigation as “retarded” because the answers she gave the psychologist were childlike and primitive – simply because she did not speak particularly good Danish.

No quality control

The president of the boroughs’ social service leaders Ole Pass admits that no one has ever investigated the extent or quality of parental competence investigations and that the boroughs have not compiled the best practice of which methods work  or even give the greatest assurance that the parents who are harmful to their own children are identified.

“I’m not denying that there might be a need for a countrywide investigation and a compilation of what is best in different situations. I just wouldn’t want any  standardisation because there are a lot of diverse factors in play,” said Ole Pass who is also against a definition of exactly what a parental competence investigation is. “It would definitely limit the borough’s necessary freedom of methodology,” he said to P1.

The President for Parliament’s Social Affairs Özlem Cezik (SF) has difficulty seeing why there should be a difference in how parents are investigated on Lolland or in Ringsted. She wants clear, uniform guidelines for boroughs, if necessary through legislation.

“I don’t think it is sensible that there are no professional guidelines for such an investigation. It’s a bit like when an organ is being removed, you make sure it is a doctor who operates on you and that someone takes your blood pressure and so on,” she said.

She points out that parental competence investigations can directly cause forced removals and that they must sharpen requirements for transparency and due process around the investigations.

“This has got to be set out in law, so that everyone knows there is a professional basis for these investigations and at the same time parents get the due process of a second opinion or a complaints procedure.”

Özlem Cekic thinks that the investigations should be undertaken by a multidisciplinary team under an experienced psychologist. In this way, this also ensures that all cases are assessed by several individuals.

Ample due process for the parents

As the system works today, the Appeals Board refuses to consider the quality of parental competence investigations because the law does not give quality requirements for the boroughs to meet.

But the boroughs cannot see any problem that parents can neither make demands nor complain about the content of parental competence investigations. “There are indeed ample opportunities to complain about the decision as the borough acts on the basis of the study,” points out the President of many years of social worker leaders, Ole Pass.

“The lawyers who represent parents in these cases ought to know how to shoot down the reasons the boroughs gives. That’s usually what happens in these cases, that the lawyer drags the evidence documents into doubt to shoot the borough’s arguments down. It looks almost like a court,” said Ole Pass.

He thinks that lawyers all too often are occupied with the parents’ – and not the children’s – due process.

Branded for ever

Lawyers experience, however, that they are appealing to deaf ears when they attempt to correct mistakes or misunderstandings in parental competence investigations.

“Unfortunately, I experience it far too often. Typically what happens is that what were hearsay or guesswork a long time ago in the case suddenly appear as truths in the finished parental competence investigations,” says Mona Melberg who is a lawyer with specialising in parental cases.

“As soon as the first mistake sneaks its way into a parental competence survey, it is virtually impossible to get the investigations content or conclusion changed,” said Mona Melberg.

“It’s incredibly hard. You can make a couple of comments but it is seldom taken particularly seriously.”

That’s what the parents of seven year old Maja experienced, Camilla Christensen and her husband Henrik Andersen, who told P1 how their daughter was removed when she was 18 months old.

“I have never felt so powerless. Never. It was horrific. They took our child completely away from us,” remembers Maja’s mother.”

Maja did find it quite difficult to maintain eye contact and had trouble bonding with her parents. She was born with autism. But the psychologist who conducted the parental competence investigation mistook Maja’s autism as some sort of developmental disorder due to her parents inability to bond with their child. The result was a forced removal, which took Maja’s parents nearly six years to reverse.

“The whole process hinged on the psychologist’s incorrect assessment. So it was done on a mistaken basis. The mistake happened, and now we and our daughter have to live with the consequences,” said Maja’s father Henrik Andersen.

No knowledge about methodology

Maja’s story is not the only example of a borough investigation overlooking a child’s disability. Some of these could maybe be avoided if psychologists got some clear guidelines for how they should investigate children and their parents.

Even when boroughs choose to use registered psychologists, they can be on shaky ground. No one has ever investigated what works best or even if investigations identify those parents who are actually harming their children. Therefore it is entirely up to the particular psychologist themselves to use trial and error with the methods they know, explains psychologist Søren Friis Smith, who conducts investigations himself.

“We psychologists are asked to go where angels fear to tread when we carry out these investigations. We actually don’t know anything about what the upshot of changing the design of the investigations would be. It could be important and very interesting to work out,” said Søren Friis Smith to P1.

Last summer the Social Ministry formulated for the first time guidance for parental competence investigations. But the guidelines are not binding and it is underlined in the text that it is optional for the boroughs to follow the because the guidelines are not connected to any actual legislation. Out of the 61 borough councils that took part in P1’s investigation, one borough revealed that they have changed the procedures after the new guidance.

Social Minister Karen Hækkerup (S) did not wish to comment on the administration’s opinions on the unregulated parental competence investigations because she was busy last week and on holiday this week.

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