Frequently asked questions concerning child welfare in Finland
Each child's parents (custodians) bear the primary responsibility for the upbringing and care of the child. The public authorities that work with children and families support the parents and custodians in their upbringing task. The authorities should provide families with any assistance that may be needed at as early a stage as possible and refer children and families to child welfare services whenever necessary.
The interests of the child cannot be generally or comprehensively defined. Each case must always be judged on its own merits. The age of the child, prevailing circumstances, ability of the parents to take care of the child and nature of matters involved all affect the consideration of measures to be taken. The circumstances affecting the life of the child, alternative solutions that are available and how they impact on the life of the child are always taken into consideration when making decisions.
The Finnish Child Welfare Act stresses that the interests of the child must be taken into consideration in all measures by the authorities. The Act stresses each child's right to involvement and special protection. The interests of the child must, first and foremost, be taken into consideration in all social welfare actions involving the child. Special attention is given to what extent the alternative measures and solutions safeguard the child's:
balanced development and well-being
the opportunity to be given understanding
care in accordance with the child’s age and level of development
a safe environment in which to grow up
physical and emotional freedom
a sense of responsibility in becoming independent and growing up.
Open care support measures can only be provided upon the consent of the child's custodian and a child who is at least 12 years of age. The aim is to promote and support the positive development of the child. The parents, custodians and persons responsible for the child’s care and upbringing are supported in carrying out their task. Independent activity and participation of the clients in organising the services and support measures is important in order for open care services to function as they should. Child welfare open care support measures include:
support for investigating a problem situation involving the child and family;
care and therapy services supporting the child’s rehabilitation
enhanced family work;
family rehabilitation; and
other services and measures supporting the child and family.
Emergency placement refers to a situation where the child is immediately taken into care by the authorities. The child is usually placed in a substitute family or children's home. An emergency placement of the child is not yet custody. Emergency placement remains in effect for 30 days unless it is terminated prior to this time. During the emergency placement, an assessment is made as to whether the child can be returned to his/her family.
In cases where authorities place a child into emergency care, the situation is serious. The child is placed into emergency care if his/her health or development is in immediate danger. These situations are acute and require immediate action.
Custody means a situation where a child is taken into the care of a social welfare authority and placed in a substitute home until further notice. Custody is the last resort in child welfare for protecting the child's growth and development.
This can be done if serious shortcomings are detected in the child’s care or other circumstances that may endanger the child’s health or development. A child may also have to be taken into custody if the child his/herself endangers his/her own health or development by substance abuse or by committing a crime. The risk must be serious. Taking into custody is only possible if open care support measures are not suitable, feasible or sufficient to guarantee that the child’s interests are protected. In custody situations, the matter is discussed thoroughly with the child, his/her parents and custodians. As in all child welfare work, when considering taking a child into custody every effort is made to work in close co-operation with the family.
Social welfare authorities may request statements from experts engaged in child growth and development work in day-care centres, schools, family counselling centres or healthcare. A social worker has the right to obtain expert assistance from other authorities and experts. A social worker must assess whether taking into custody is the very best option to ensure the child's development and everything possible has been done to support the parents. The assessment must be conducted on the terms of the child and from the child's perspective. In a proper handling of custody arrangements, the wishes, opinions and cultural background of the child and parents will have been taken into consideration.
Custody is valid indefinitely. It can, however, be terminated if it is found that there is no longer any need for custody and its termination is in the interests of the child. Custody ends when the child reaches 18 years of age.
Even during the period of custody, social welfare authorities provide support to the child and parents. In such situations, no attempts to assign blame are made. Instead, consideration is given on how the social workers can help. The goal is that the parents would once again be able to take care of their child and that the return of the child would be possible.
The National Institute for Health and Welfare collects data and keeps statistics on, for example, the number of children placed in emergency care. Statistics on the nationality or ethnic background of the child or his/her parents are not kept. The last confirmed statistical data is from 2014, when there was a sharp decrease in the number of children placed in emergency care:
10, 675 children were taken into custody in 2014. This was 1.4 per cent fewer children than in the previous year.
In 2014, a total of 17,958 children and youths were placed outside their own homes. This number dropped just under one per cent.
Over 50 per cent of the children taken into custody during 2014 were placed with substitute families. Of the children placed with substitute families, 13 per cent (616 children) were placed with relatives or close acquaintances.
Child welfare open care was provided to 90,269 children and youths, 43 per cent of whom were social welfare clients for the first time. The number of child welfare open care clients rose by just over one per cent over the previous year.
In Finland, corporal punishment of children is against the law. In some European countries, corporal punishment of children is permitted. In Finland, it is a crime. Children have the right to physical integrity in the same way that adults do.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, each child must be protected from all forms of violence, neglect and exploitation. In Finland, the corporal punishment, subduing and other humiliation of the child was prohibited by law in 1984, i.e. over 30 years ago. Legislation in Finland is founded on the understanding that children have the same rights to protection from violence as adults. Any violence inflicted on children, including corporal punishment, is considered assault under the Finnish Penal Code.
The adverse effects of corporal and mental punishment have been confirmed in research on the subject. Punishment is only a detriment to the child and has been found to offer no educational benefit.
Susanna Hoikkala, Ministerial Adviser Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Department for Communities and Functional Capacity / YTO, Children and Young People Unit / LANU Telephone:0295163482[email protected]