Inquiry Godhavnsundersøgelsen

Alternative Names
  • Inquiry into abuse and medical experiments on the residential school of Godhavn and 18 other children’s homes during the period 1945-1976

Key Dates

1945 - 1976
Period of investigation
Announcement date
1 January 2010 - May 2011
Period of operation
May 2010
Final Report


Independent investigation raised by members of the Care Leaver Association of Godhavn's Boys against the Godhavn's Boys' Home and 18 other Danish children's homes. The Inquiry was commissioned research conducted by the Welfare Museum of Svendborg financed by the Ministry of Social Affaires

The focus of the Inquiry was the extent of abuse and medical experiments in out of home care facilities (institutions only). The Inquiry focused primarily on the residential school of Godhavn for boys. The Godhavn Inquiry was a comparatively small-scale inquiry, covering care leavers, former staff members and supervision inspectors involving only 19 of the period's 350 institutions operating in Denmark.

The Process
Private hearings (interviews); archival studies of medical experiments; forensic analysis of a material artefact

Governing Authority
Denmark, The Ministry of Social Affaires

Inquiry Locations
Denmark, Svendborg.

Private Sessions
Interviews with voluntary informants were conducted by historians and lasted for one hour. The interviews were both transcribed and summarised in a 3-6 pages long summary. When analysing the interviews the inquiry team adapted a narrative approach. Since the inquiry was raised by members of the Care Leaver Association of Godhavn's Boys, most of the informants had resided at Godhavn.

Case Studies
The boy's home Godhavn was investigated in particular (112 pages of the final report concern Godhavn). The case study on Godhavn is divided in two parts; one based on the information from interviews about the everyday life and abuse at Godhavn, one based on archival research on the medical practice at Godhavn. In addition 18 other children's homes are described in short, based on interviews with 1-5 informants. In one case study the inquiry team also detected a gymnastic horse spoken of in one informant's interview and conducted a forensic analysis of it. The gymnastic horse was covered with blood stains.

The inquiry was carried out by the Welfare Museum of Svendborg on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs which in turn had been demanded to do something in order to find out the truth about Godhavn by a care leaver organisation, which was established after the broadcast of a television documentary in 2005. The background of the inquiry is described by the head of the inquiry and one of its team members: "As with many other investigations in the Scandinavian countries, it was a television documentary that started the process. In 2005, Danish National Television (DR) broadcast the documentary "Drengehjemmet" (The Boys' Home) by Rikke Skov, in which care leavers and staff members of the boys' home Godhavn voiced a number of shocking accusations of abuse, neglect and medical experiments using psychopharmacological drugs at Godhavn. These experiments were allegedly conducted by the psychiatrist, Ib Ostenfeld, who had been nationally appointed to Godhavn during the period 1960 to 1976.
The subsequent debate led to the foundation of the National Association of Godhavn's Boys, which in the following years fought for an impartial inquiry into the conditions during its members' stays at children's homes. Their efforts were rewarded in 2010, when the inquiry was carried out by three historians from the Welfare Museum at Svendborg Museum in Denmark." (Rytter & Knage Rasmusen 2015, p. 97-98).

Aside from case studies of institutions the report contains 1) a historical contextualized study on the use of psychopharmacological drugs on children with special focus on the psychiatric medical supervision at Godhavn (commissioned research by commissioned scholars), and 2) a forensic analysis of a material artefact from a children's home - a gymnastic horse - covered in blood stains

99 people were interviewed in total, of which 85 were care leavers. 14 informants were former staff. Only 7 of the 99 informants were female care leavers.

7 female, 92 men

18. Children's homes, residential schools. The inquiry examined single sex and mixed institutions.

Abuse and neglect had been everyday experience at several institutions according to many informants. The Godhavn inquiry was not able to conclusively show that the Psychiatrist at Godhavn conducted medical experiments, but he did try one drug after another on his clients, many drugs hadn't been used for treating children before. The gymnasatic horse from another children's home was covered with blood stains of size proving that boys leaning over it probably had been beaten with great force. (Rytter & Knage Rasmusen 2015, p. 100-101)

998.860 DKK (2011) = 134031 EUR (2016)


Final Reports

Acknowledgement: this summary was prepared by Johanna Sköld, Linköping University