The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for the preparation of the legislation on child welfare and for the general steering of child welfare services.
The purpose of child welfare is to guarantee children’s right to a safe growth environment, balanced and diverse development and special protection. Preventive child welfare and early support play a crucial role in the fulfilment of this purpose.
The measures promoting the wellbeing of children and youth aim to prevent the need to resort to the actual child welfare measures. The purpose of preventive child welfare measures is to provide help and support at a sufficiently early stage, when the emergence of problems or their worsening can still be prevented. The maternity and child health clinics, child daycare centres and schools have an important role in the preventive child welfare work.
The Child Welfare Act safeguards children’s rights
Provisions on child welfare are laid down in the Child Welfare Act.
Provisions on the rights of children are laid down in the Constitution of Finland. Furthermore, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are also binding on Finland. These conventions oblige the states to give priority to the best interests of the child in all actions by the authorities.
Local authorities are responsible for organising child welfare services
The local authorities in each Finnish municipality are responsible for organising child welfare services. They may provide the services themselves or purchase them from external service providers. If the local authorities purchase the services, they must supervise the activities of the service providers.
The local authorities must draw up a plan for the promotion of the wellbeing of children and youth and for the organisation and development of child welfare services.
The Regional State Administrative Agencies issue licences to private actors producing round-the-clock child welfare services. The nationwide licences are applied for at the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira). The Regional State Administrative Agencies and Valvira supervise the local authorities in the arrangement of services.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare supports the local authorities in the implementation of the Child Welfare Act for example by administering Handbook for child protection, a web service intended for child welfare professionals.
Furthermore, various organisations participate both in the production and development of the services.
Preventive child welfare
The aim of preventive child welfare is to promote and safeguard the growth, development and wellbeing of children and youth and to support parenting.
Preventive child welfare refers to the special support provided for families within the basic public services, for example at maternity and child health clinics, and within other healthcare services, child daycare, family centres, education, and youth work. Children and families using preventive child welfare services do not need to be child welfare clients, but the work is carried out as part of the services intended for children, youth and families instead.
Taking children into consideration in the services intended for adults is also one form of preventive child welfare. For example, when a parent’s ability to take care of his or her children is in connection to mental health and substance abuse services assessed to have weakened, the children’s need for care and support must be investigated.
Child welfare notification and investigation of the need for child welfare measures
A child welfare case is initiated upon application or notification submitted to the social welfare authorities of a municipality. A child’s possible need for urgent child welfare measures must be assessed immediately. In other cases, a social worker must assess whether an investigation of the need for child welfare measures is necessary within seven weekdays.
A client relationship with child welfare services begins when the social welfare authorities have undertaken urgent child welfare measures or a decision to conduct an investigation of the need for child welfare measures has been made.
A child welfare client is assigned a personal social worker. The local authorities are responsible for providing the child and his or her family with those social services that the social worker responsible for the child’s case assesses in the client plan to be absolutely necessary for the health and development of the child.
If the health or development of a child are endangered by the child’s growth environment or the child himself or herself, supportive measures in open care must be taken without delay. Therapy, support persons, family work, peer group activities and recreational activities are examples of supportive measures in open care.
If a child is in immediate danger or otherwise in need of urgent placement and substitute care, the child may be placed in care with urgency.
Taking into care
If the health or development of a child are endangered by the child’s growth environment or the child himself or herself and the supportive measures in open care are not suitable, possible or sufficient, the child must be taken into care. However, a child may be taken into care only if the substitute care is assessed to be in the best interests of the child.
Before a child is placed away from home, it must be investigated whether the child could live with persons close to the child or whether these persons could otherwise participate in supporting the child.
Taking into care is valid indefinitely. It may be terminated, however, if there is no longer need for it and the termination is in the best interests of the child.
A decision on taking a child into care is made by the municipal officeholder directing social services. If the parents or a child aged 12 or more are opposed to the taking into care, the decision shall be made by a court.
All decisions are subject to appeal. The appeals are considered by a court.
Substitute care means arranging the care and upbringing of a child that has been taken into care, placed urgently or placed on the basis of an interlocutory order issued by an administrative court away from the child's own home.
Substitute care may be arranged as family care in a foster family or as institutional care in a children’s home, correctional school or another child welfare institution.
A child or a young person is entitled to receive after-care after the termination of substitute care or placement carried out as a supportive measure in open care, if the placement has lasted at least six months. The right to after-care continues until the young person turns 25. After-care can also be provided for other young people who have been clients of child welfare services.
Supportive measures can be, for example, provision of assistance in arranging accommodation for a young person during his or her studies or support by a social instructor.
Marjo Malja, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Social Affairs
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Department for Safety, Security and Health / TUTO, Wellbeing and Health Protection Unit / HYT Telephone:0295163581
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