keskiviikko 20. huhtikuuta 2016

Finnish child welfare: Child protection or "for profit" foster care?

High numbers of children in foster care, insufficient supervision of alternative care facilities, inadequate training of social workers – over the years, local and international bodies have flagged numerous shortcomings in Finland’s child protection and foster care system. One critic says the system is broken partly because of a whistle-blower culture, unfettered power given to social workers - and big bucks paid out for children placed in care.

Stephen*, a UK national, has been in Finland for just over 15 years and lives in the southwest with his family. He says he has been unjustly treated by a child protection system that targeted his family over anonymous reports that his children faced physical violence.

"The children were interviewed on one occasion to confirm or remove the allegations that they were being abused. And those interviews confirmed that the allegations were untrue – they were false."

After a 3-year battle that involved the local Administrative Authority, Stephen was eventually cleared of the allegations and his children were not taken into care.

Stephen was one of several who answered Yle News’ call to share their personal experiences with the child protection system. Most accounts were overwhelmingly negative, with individuals expressing feelings of humiliation, anger, frustration and a sense of futility and hopelessness against the might of the child welfare machine.

"It would seem that there are two standards, one under which the foster families and the private for-profit entities who contract with the government cannot possibly be guilty of any wrong, and the other whereby the slightest real or imaginary fault by the real parents justifies the indefinite incarceration of the child," said one father, Claude*, with two children in foster care.

Leeni Ikonen is a senior lawyer who has long campaigned for change in the Finnish child protection system. She said reforms introduced in 2008 have created a kind of whistle-blower culture that has put families at the mercy of informants and child care workers.

"This legal framework emphasizes the power of the officials. Social workers have unlimited power and the family’s access to legal protection is non-existent. This leads to the fact that we always end up discussing the same problems: child protection is unpredictable and clients never know what to expect when they become clients of the child protection system."

The child protection worker was very supportive and helpful

In its fourth periodic report on Finland’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically raised the issue of children placed in alternative care.

Even Finland’s Parliamentary Ombudsman has highlighted shortcomings in the system. In a 2014 review of the state of democracy and human rights in Finland, Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen also flagged his own concerns about the system, including inadequate education of social workers and insufficient supervision of foster care (lack of resources for monitoring and inspection).

Families are being destroyed with false accusations. Too much power is given to social workers.

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*Names and certain details changed to protect the individuals’ identities.
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