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Principles of child welfare in Finland

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 17.6.2016 14.26
News item

Tuomas Kurttila, the Ombudsman for Children, and lawyer Riitta Burrell explain in a video the principles of child welfare and the status children in Finland.

Link to video:

Text version of the interview

Tuomas Kurttila, ombudsman for children

"My name is Tuomas Kurttila and I'm the Ombudsman for Children here in Finland. In Finland, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is in force. This UN Convention guarantees that in all actions by the authorities, in society's actions, the interests of the child are central. That is the key thing. This also concerns child welfare, and therefore also situations where society has to take a view on whether the environment in which the child finds himself or herself, the family in which the child is being raised, is good for the child's growth and development. These situations are often difficult for the families, but they are particularly difficult for the children."

"The task of society is to guarantee that children are doing okay and can grow up and develop well.  In Finland, child welfare services are run by the municipalities. These local authorities employ professional staff to carry out the work. At the heart of this is what's best for the child, but the child's privacy is also essential. In Finland we don't believe in turning the spotlight strongly on the child in situations where they really need protection, security and privacy." 

"The task of child welfare is to support the family. To support a situation where the child may also return to the family in which he or she was living. Is this possible in all situations? This is evaluated separately in each case, but it is nevertheless the goal. The family and parents are not left alone either though. Support and help are available for them, which is exactly what they need. But the child will also be in need of support. The child, whose interests and rights are what child welfare is always about."

"It is also important that everyone living and residing in Finland knows what's involved with the family and upbringing. That's why I want to mention physical disciplining, or disciplinary violence. This country does not tolerate disciplinary violence. In those situations where disciplinary violence is used, child welfare services will need to be called on. The rights of a child are obligations for us adults. As adults, we are not perfect. There are no perfect families and parents. That's why child welfare is there to offer support and acts as security for the child."

Riitta Burrell, lawyer

"My name is Riitta Burrell. I work as a lawyer in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. I should first say that Finnish legislation safeguards the privacy protection of social welfare and healthcare clients. The authorities cannot therefore comment in any way at all on individual child welfare cases. That's why I'll explain in general terms about the legal provisions of the Child Welfare Act in regard to taking a child into custody." 

"Under the Child Welfare Act a child must be taken into custody in the first place in cases where shortcomings in the care and attention given to the child present a serious threat that the child's health of development. In practice, there are often parental mental health or intoxicant abuse problems behind this."

"Secondly, a child must be taken into care if the child is putting his or her own health or development at serious risk, for instance by using intoxicating substances or committing an offence. In other words, the child may be taken into care if his or her health or development is at serious risk."

"The child's sex, language, religion, ethnic background or other similar personal factors are of no importance. The Constitution of Finland prohibits discrimination, and violation of this prohibition on discrimination is a punishable offence under the Penal Code."

"If a child aged 12 or more or his or her parents are opposed to the taking into care, the matter is determined by the Administrative Court. An appeal against a decision of the Administrative Court may be made to the Supreme Administrative Court. In Finland, the courts are independent. Their independence is guaranteed in the Constitution. Courts are only bound by the laws currently in force. No external party can intervene in their decisions."

"Taking a child into care is always a measure of last resort to help the child. In the first instance, the child and his or her parents are helped and supported by means of general social services. Such means vary according to the needs of the family at the time, but may include a support person, home-help services, financial support and care and therapy services."

"If open care support measures are insufficient and the child's health or development is at serious risk, he or she must be taken into care. Taking a child into care is intended as a temporary measure. The aim is always reunification of the family. While a child is taken into care, support measures that facilitate the reunification of the family must be offered and organised for the parents.

Video: Kimmo Vainikainen

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