Children are taken into care as a last resort
The sometimes acrimonious child welfare debate of recent weeks worries Ministerial Adviser Lotta Hämeen-Anttila.
"We would not want immigrants to begin avoiding child welfare services because they have begun to view the Finnish authorities as hostile. It is important to establish trust between clients and employees, so that we can provide help."
According to Hämeen-Anttila, Finland is on a par with the other Nordic countries in terms of the number of cases in which children are taken into care by the authorities. No national statistics are available on how many of the children taken into care are from immigrant families. However, based on data obtained from individual municipalities, Hämeen-Anttila is convinced that Russian families have been treated no differently from anyone else.
"Child welfare matters always evoke a powerful emotional response. The making of a child welfare notification concerning your own family always feels like an insult, whatever your nationality. Having a child taken into care must be one of the most difficult experiences in a person's life."Everyone is treated equally
Many claims, some of them quite absurd, have been presented in public concerning Finnish child welfare services. Russians have even suspected the Finnish authorities of implanting microchips in Russian children taken into care, to prevent them from being repatriated to Russia. Hämeen-Anttila notes that the only way to dispel the uproar is publicity based on the facts.
"Any Finn knows that claims such as these are simply untrue. If too little is known about the child welfare system of another country, it is easy for misinformation to spread."
Hämeen-Anttila stresses that the Finnish legal system treats everyone equally.
"It is not in the interests of the child to air the family's matters in public. If it is suspected that an error has occurred, the case has to be investigated thoroughly. Decisions are open to appeal before a court and complaints about the actions of individual officials can be submitted to the relevant Regional State Administrative Agency."Uniting families is the goal
Hämeen-Anttila says that the greatest difference in the child welfare practices of Finland and Russia is that Finland offers more support and help for families in the early stages of the process.
"Russians have noticed this for themselves: if help is given in time, children do not need to be taken into care."
Hämeen-Anttila also points out that, in Finland, a child welfare notification by no means automatically leads to the child being taken into care. However, the situation in question must be investigated. Social workers begin by estimating how urgent the case is. They investigate the case and determine whether the family should become a client of the social services. Then a plan is drawn up for the family, with an assessment of the services required, and a social worker is assigned to the family.
"If the situation progresses so far as to warrant taking a child into care, support will continue to be provided for the child and the parents alike. This is not about apportioning blame, but about finding out how social workers can best help the family. If the situation changes, the child is returned to the family, provided that this is in the child's best interests."