The family lived in a village near Ystad in Österlen surrounded by rapeseed fields. File photo, not of the exact location: Miriam Preis/imagebank.sweden.se
According to a series of articles in the Sydsvenskan newspaper, four of the couple's five children were taken into care last August after a raid by local social services on their house in a village outside the town of Ystad.
The children, who were then between 10 and 16 years old, lacked social skills, “basic knowledge in reading, writing and mathematics”, and appeared unaware of how to use money, how to tie their shoes, or how to go to the toilet, a source in the local social services told the newspaper.
A medical examination showed that they had “weak balance and a lack of strength in their legs”, indicating that they had not been able to exercise sufficiently throughout their childhood.
The oldest child, who is now 19, has been allowed to remain with the parents.
According to Dennis Hjelmström, who only started working as head of the local schools in Ystad in 2017, the parents had claimed that the family was travelling and that the children attended an online school based in the US, a claim the local council accepted until last year, when he decided to check it out.
“The parents' explanation was lengthy, verbose and detailed. It felt a bit too much,” he told the Expressen newspaper. “I emailed the headmaster in the US and it didn't take long to discover that the children had never been there.”
When he decided to check up on the house on his way home that evening, he could see that even though it looked abandoned, there were fresh bags of rubbish waiting to be collected. A neighbour told him that he had heard children's voices but never seen them.
The mother of the children told Sydsvenskan that the local council was “exaggerating and inventing things” and claimed that the family had been frequently travelling across Europe and reiterated her claims about the US school.
She has been on sickness benefit since 2015, while her husband has been on sickness benefits for a decade.
Hjelmström said that the municipality had changed its procedures to prevent such a case happening again.
“We have brought in a new procedure where we require written documents from the foreign school. We can no longer just accept parents' claims.”
Christer Olofsson, head of the education department in the municipality, told Expressen that he was sorry at what had happened.
“Probably all we can do is to lie down flat on the ground and admit that we were naive and trusted the information we were given by the parents. We didn't check up on it, that was our big mistake.”