New Ombudsman for Children wants to clamp down on inequality

12.5.2014 9.10
News item N5-64553

"Family background determines too much of how a child's future turns out," says the new Ombudsman for Children, Tuomas Kurttila, who took up the post 1 May.

The words express a mission, as Kurttila intends to combat inequality, which he feels is the single biggest challenge in the Ombudsman for Children's work.

It's a view he backs up with statistics: in 2012, nine per cent of children in Finland were from low income families, and some 30 000 children lived in deep poverty.

"Society's decisions should not be allowed to deepen this divide. We must create jobs and incomes for parents, we must take proper care of basic services, and we must be able to identify impediments in the earliest stages of child development," says Kurttila.

"We need to take greater care of children living in poverty."

Threats to children a threat to society

Kurttila stresses that inequality undermines the scope for children to reach their full potential. This is a severe drain on talent and human capital.

By their own estimates, children consider loneliness and lack of friends as determinants of social exclusion. For society, inequality is often a question of one's education and professional status. Inequality is often stigmatised, characterised by inferiority, ostracism and deprivation.

Kurttila views inequality as a threat to the country.  He says that we have to choose whether we want a Finland for the few or for everyone.

"We must be able to combine prolonging working life, increased productivity and bearing responsibility for care. If we lose about 10 per cent of an age group's productive work and activity, we'll be in an impossible predicament, both in terms of the national economy as well as in human terms."

He wants to see a child welfare perspective included in the preparations of all social decisions - national, municipal and labour market. He also wants to see decision-making rooted in evidence-based data on preventing social exclusion.

"But we also need people to be responsible for themselves and those closest to them. Otherwise, we would treat people as somewhat helpless creatures. Adults, and in particular specially education professionals must be able to see the potential in every child. As long as we can strengthen, embolden, come face to face with and see the child, there's hope."

Stronger will

Although there is room to improve children's living conditions, rights and general wellbeing, much has been accomplished. Kurttila believes that there is nowadays a stronger will in Finland to build a child-friendly society.

"There is still not enough know-how in decision-making to make impact assessments and design child oriented services, and income transfers investments. Often, there is not sufficient time given to official preparations, which means that these can not be properly modelled. So ultimately it's a matter of management."

Kurttila says that it is excellent that there is the will to listen to children and that the perspective of children is appreciated. He would like to see new actors, such as social partners, involved in arrangements where children are concerned.

"Reconciling work and family life presents a great opportunity for Finnish society."

Kurttila also praises the provision of basic services, such as day care and primary education. He also detects positive developments in upbringing in the home, such as the clear decline in the use of corporal punishment.

"Still, the increased welfare of the majority tends to obscure special needs."

Model country

In general, Kurttila would like to see children's welfare promoted ambitiously. He wants Finland to be a model country in the area of child policy, emulated by other countries.

"In building Finland we are building the world as a whole. Child and youth question will emerge more prominently in development policy in years to come. Finland will be in a pole position, if we want it to be."

"Humanity tomorrow ultimately depends on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In children we see tomorrow, and that's been important for us as adults today."

Teksti: Kimmo Vainikainen