Tag Archives: Finland

How you do anything is how you do everything – the view from Finland #Nordic2015

Heading to Helsinki to take the leap of co-working

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.  You may also be interested in this post about child protection in Finland

From 9 – 13 June I went to Helsinki to be part of the conference #Nordic2015. The theme was Courage in Social Work. Wearing my CPR hat, I gave a presentation about ‘The Courage to Communicate’ and heard presentations from Finnish groups who worked with families to support them in the community.

I also took the opportunity to have a look round Helskinki. It was interesting to note that at the cafes you would often find jugs of water and glasses. The thirsty traveller can refresh himself without cost. In England – at least in my experience – water is rarely freely offered and when requested often brought grudgingly or not at all. It struck me that this little thing was actually emblematic of a much wider gulf between our two societies, and that these different attitudes must inevitably play out in our respective approaches to child protection.

In England, the message seems to be – take responsibility for your own thirst. Buy some water or carry it with you. Why should you expect anyone else to bail you out for your own laziness or lack of foresight? If you are thirsty, that is your fault and you must take the blame.

Whereas in Helsinki there seems to be more of a recognition that life is simply nicer for everyone if we come out of our individualistic bubbles and work collectively to take care of each other. Rather than waste energy arguing over who should have provided the water, just make it available without fuss.

If you think my example is too whimsical, have a look at how Norway deals with children who kill children and compare and contrast with the response to the children who killed James Bulger. Consider again the relentless hunt for ‘someone to blame’ after Peter Connolley was killed – that ‘someone’ being exclusively amongst the social workers. As the Guardian commented about the killing of Silje Redergard in 1994:

But perhaps the most significant difference was that, in Britain, the authorities decided to let the nation judge the child killers. Trying Thompson and Venables as adults and releasing names and mugshots unleashed a countrywide roar of anguish that can still be heard today – much to the disadvantage of any damaged child who behaves badly to another, and who needs help rather than “justice”.

We are out of step with Europe

There is little doubt in my mind that the UK is increasingly out of step with other European countries and our approach to protecting children and supporting families, and there is a real risk that we end up doing precious little of either.


The courage to communicate

I first spoke on behalf of the CPR site about the courage to communicate. To say that it takes courage to speak the truth is both distorting and inhibiting, it makes the truth something to be feared. However, when that distortion and inhibition has already taken hold, courage is needed because you are trying to speak hard truths, that your listener may not want to hear.

I spoke of Atul Gawande, the American surgeon who recognised that as a young doctor he did not have the courage needed to tell his terminally ill patients that they were going to die and instead risked giving them false hope by talking of possible treatments which in reality would not help at all. I suspect the same fear – of not wanting to upset someone or make them angry with you, or having to admit that we just don’t have the resources available to help – is behind the cloaking of much of our attempts to communicate in the child protection field in terms of jargon and euphemism, which parents just cannot understand.

Social work and the work of family lawyers, is about human beings talking to other human beings, being interested in and concerned for the welfare of those other humans.  If we cannot communicate, distrust arises, which leads to fear and anger. All hope of a constructive relationship is lost. I spoke about the work of the CPR site and what we were trying to do to improve communication – by speaking hard truths plainly but hopefully with compassion.

The culmination of this work was of course the conference on June 1st – is the Child Protection System Fit for Purpose? I spoke about how surprised and pleased I had been at the number of people who came from such different walks of life and how the parents who came were also so happy to be able to speak in a room full of professionals without feeling judged or ashamed.

I hoped that what we had discussed at this conference would continue to be part of an ever forward moving project to promote continued communication and continued change for the better. It was very interesting to hear from some of the parents that the conference had made them think about their own attitudes to social workers and what they needed to change. But it sadly confirmed just how deep are the current levels of distrust and fear between families and professionals.


What’s happening in Finland to improve communication between parents and professionals?

I then listened to very interesting presentations from two groups that work with parents and children in Finland. The key message was how parents and children are engaged to work with the process.


Finland seems far ahead of the UK in its willingness to recognise the continuing importance in the child’s life of loved family members. The view is that care away from families should be for a short time and that children should go home – adoption is currently not possible in Finland.

(EDIT – this is what I was told by the Finnish delegates, but it does not seem to be true! Please see this post by Claire Fenton Glynn. I will attempt to find out more and clarify this position. Edit 9th August 2015, Claire Fenton Glynn clarifies the position in this post.)

But if a child can’t go home, the family remains important. There was also recognition that professionals should not be ‘gate keepers’ to a child’s participation in the system; they should ask the child if he/she is ready to participate.

The Lahemmas (‘closer’) project is part of the Pesapuu organisation, which is a nationwide child welfare association bringing expertise to the field of child welfare. Lahemmas seeks to enhance the recognition of family relationships in child protection in Finland.  Its goals are:

  • to promote the relationships of children and their loved ones and their right to be heard
  • to reinforce expertise of experience in developing child protection
  • to provide support for children and families to cope with the help of relatives and other important people
  • to find solutions in child protection based on the help and support of people close to the child.
  • to create new child-orientated methods in social work which take parents, relatives and people close to a child into account.



With regard to parents, the group Voikukkia (‘Dandelions’ or ‘can bloom’) was set up in the early 2000s when it was discovered that the parents of placed children often remained without support and were left alone to deal with the crisis of that removal. The group recognises the shame parents can feel when their child is in care and are determined that no one should feel alone in the process.

The group’s objectives are:

  • to justify and convince others about why parental support after custody removals is important and worthwhile. The parent’s own voice is a crucial element in this.
  • to disseminate their proven peer support group methods, so that Voikukkia peer support groups would be available to all who need it.
  • to train professionals and experienced parents of the group to become the peer support group facilitators, as well as better identify the need for assistance of families in crisis.

Voikukkia now has more than 200 trained instructors in different parts of Finland and has published a book about parents’ experiences.


Take the leap of co-working

Both groups promote engagement between children, parents and professionals.  At first, ‘co-working’ with families had seemed like an impossible step but now in Finland it is difficult to think of developing the child protection system without the parents and children having input and we were urged to ‘take the leap of co-working’  – this struck an immediate chord with those following the CPR twitter feed in the UK and was the most re-tweeted comment from the session.

This is very far from my own experience as a lawyer at the adversarial end of  the child protection system but clearly brings with it enormous benefits. I am interested to keep exploring the Finnish model and hope to bring some of the speakers over to #CPConf2016 – watch this space.


Child Protection in Finland

We are grateful for this contribution from the Lähemmäs (Closer) project from Finland.

Lähemmäs believes that the child has the right to express who s/he feels close to and the aim is to get those people involved in supporting the child in all stages of child welfare procedures.

Another aim is to challenge the authorities to see the people around the child as positive resources when they prove to be such.

See more at www.pesapuu -a nationwide child welfare association bringing expertise to the field of child welfare.


Adoption is not the solution?

We can see that the important issues and questions being considered in Finland are very similar to those in England – particularly the core value of protecting the best interests of the child and looking at family care as the first resort for children.

The key distinction between UK and Finnish law is that Finland does not permit any kind of formal end to the legal relationship between parent and child although a child has been taken into long-term care. Thus in the Finnish system, children taken into care will NOT be adopted but rather will be in foster care or institutional care.

It would be interesting to compare and contrast in greater detail the different attitudes between the Finnish and the UK approach to what is considered the best long term outcomes for children in care. 

See further The New Child Welfare Act in Finland, 2008

EDIT 9th August 2015: To say that Finland does not permit a formal end to the legal relationship between parent and child does not seem to be supported by legal analysis from others.  Please see this post by Claire Fenton Glynn. I will attempt to find out more and clarify this position.

EDIT – 9th August 2015 Claire Fenton Glynn explains the position re Finland

The Finnish Adoption Act (22/2012) reads as follows:

Section 9
(1) The adoption of a child may not be granted unless his/her parents have consented thereto, with the exceptions provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) and section 36(2).
(2) For exceptional reasons, adoption may be granted even if the consent of the parents or one of them has not been obtained or if a previous consent has been withdrawn, if it is deemed that the adoption obviously and definitely is in the best interests of the child and that the refusal or withdrawal of consent by the parent(s) is not sufficiently justified, taking into account the best interests of the child and the interaction between the child and the parent(s), their mutual relationship and its nature.
…  you are also correct that in Finland uses long term foster care as the preferred option, and I think the use of this section would be very rare (if you look at cases where Finland has been taken to the ECtHR, even in quite extreme cases foster care is preferred).

Unfortunately, I don’t know full details about how often it is used, and in what circumstances. I think this is the crucial issue, and it is why I don’t really think talking about the mechanisms for adoption in and of themselves is necessary helpful – the only reason I have been emphasising the legal frameworks is that I get annoyed that there is misinformation out there about it not being possible, when I think there needs to be a shift in the discussion – moving away from what is possible (because all frameworks are roughly similar in terms of some kind of parental misconduct or abandonment), to what is actually done.

What we need is a discussion of how these mechanisms are used, and when, and what reaction social services would have in different countries to the same scenario (eg. drug use of parents, developmental delays, problems at school etc). There was one attempt to do so in 2003 by Warman and Roberts, but as far as I am aware, nothing similar has been done since.

Main issues and questions in child protection at the moment in Finland

  • How is the information shared between various authorities?
  • Family care as primary option for the children in care.
  • The amount of work and customers per social worker ( e.g. the prime assessments of whether there is a need for child protective services are not always done in the timeline stated in the Child Welfare Act).
  • The need for a strategy plan for improving child welfare.
  • The experiences of the children, the young and the families who are/have been clients in child welfare services will be taken into account when assessing and improving the quality of child protection services.


Child welfare in Finland

Basic principles and procedures and what is going on


Growth in the number of children in care has stagnated

  • In 2012, the number of children placed in care, total of 10,675, stayed at the same level as the year before. The number of new cases of taking into care fell by 143 children, showing a decrease of 4 per cent on 2011.
  • The number of children in emergency placement has been increasing sharply since 2005, but now the growth has slowed down. There were 3,944 children in emergency placement in 2012, showing an increase of 1.5 per cent on 2011.
  • During the year, a total of 17,830 children and young people were placed outside the home, an increase of 1.6 per cent on the previous year. There were more boys placed outside the home than girls.
  • Half of the children in care at the end of 2012 were placed in foster families. Of these children, 11 per cent were placed with relatives or friends.
  • There were 1.6 child welfare notifications per child in 2012, and the notifications concerned altogether 64,391 children.
  • Around 87,200 children and young people received support in community care in 2011. This was 7 per cent more than in 2010. Some 7 000 clients in community care received after-care.
Source: Child welfare 2012. THL. http://www.julkari.fi/handle/10024/110691


Main principles of child welfare in Finland (Child Welfare Act: Chapter 1, Section 4)

  • to promote the child’s development and well-being
  • to support parents and other custodians in the child’s upbringing and care
  • to prevent problems and intervene when necessary

The centre of the focus is the child and the following points have to be ensured when considering various possibilities and decisions in child welfare:

  • a balanced development and wellbeing along with close and permanent relationships
  • an opportunity to get affection and understanding along with care and supervisionaccording to child’s age and level of maturity
  • an education consistent with the abilities and wishes of a child
  • a safe environment for growing up and the right for physical and mental integrity
  • a sense of responsibility in growing up and becoming independent
  • an opportunity to be involved and influence their own issues
  • the linguistic, cultural and religious background must be taken into account

Actions should be as discreet as possible and the open care services must be used as primary means of help unless the need of a child requires otherwise. When substitute care is in the best interest of a child it must be arranged without delay. The aim to re-unite the family must be taken into account in substitute care while keeping the best interest of a child in mind.

Child protection in practice – the procedures in child welfare in Finland

Source: Central Union of Child welfare

The services that aim to prevent problems

Some of them are available to all citizens and others are available when needed. For example:

  • prenatal care for all citizens
  • regular health and developmental check-ups for all children under seven for all citizens
  • day care and preschool services for all citizens
  • child guidance and family counselling services when needed
  • pupil welfare when needed
  • youth work when needed
  • family counselling clinics when needed
  • peer support groups when needed
  • home help services and working with families when they need help and support
  • family conciliation when needed


Child welfare notification if you are concerned about a child ́s well-being

  • who: anyone, the parent, the child, police, school, neighbour basically anyone who is concerned about a child but authorities working with children are obliged to report a concern about a child
  • where: the municipal office of social services
  • what happens: social workers have a duty to investigate every report
  • no measures are taken before the investigation unless the child is in immediate danger
  • sometimes the report is a mistake and the case is closed
  • if the child and the family need help, a client plan is made

The basic principle is to help the child and the family so that the children could live in their own homes with their families. These primary services are called support means in open care. They are voluntary and based on co-operation.

They can be for example:

  • family help at home
  • support person or support family for the child
  • financial aid for for example to help with hobby costs
  • peer group activities
  • therapy services
  • placement of the whole family in family or institutional care
  • holiday and recreational activities


Taking into Care

Sometimes parents are unable to take care of their child for one reason or another. Sometimes a child does something harmful to him/herself. If the problems are so severe that a child is not safe at home or the harm done by themselves is too risky and there is no other way to improve the situation, the only solution is to arrange the care away from home. Children must be taken into care and substitute care must be provided for them by the officials responsible for social services if:

  • their health or development in seriously endangered by lack of care or other circumstances in which they are being brought up
  • they seriously endanger their health or development by use of intoxicants, by committing an illegal act other than a minor offence or by any other comparable behaviour

Taking a child into care and substitute care may be resorted to if

  • the open care services would not be suitable or possible or have proved to be insufficient
  •  substitute care is estimated to be in the best interest of a child


Substitute care

  • as family care (a foster family)
  • a professional family home
  • institutional care

The placement away from home may be a short-term solution to a difficult situation. Emergency placement is implemented if a child is in danger. Taking into care is the final option. Taking into care is prepared together with the family and may take a long time. Sometimes taking into care must be done even though the family opposes it. A child taken into care goes to live in a foster family or child protection institution. The child stays in care as long as it is needed but if the circumstances that led to placement away from home change for the better it is necessary to find out whether the child could return home.

After care

  • those who are taken into care have a right to after care if the placement has lasted more than six months
  • the purpose is to help the child to return home or a young person to become independent
  • it may include support for housing, livelihood, work or studies.


More information

Survivors Group in Pesäpuu

The Survivors’ focus group consists of young volunteers between the ages of 16-26 who are or have been in alternative care. The group was formed in 2008 as part of the Youth in Alternative Care project under the auspices of the Finnish NGO Pesäpuu – Centre of Expertise in Child Welfare which is financed by the Finnish Slot Machine Organisation (RAY).

See ‘Protect your Dreams – Safeguard the Hope: Children’s Contribution to Developing High Quality Alternative Care’ – the Ombudsman for Children in Finland.


We Believe in You, So Should You

The first handbook for children and youth in alternative care in Scandinavia was published in 2010 by the Selviytyjät Survivors Focus and Development Group. The title ‘We Believe in You, So Should You’ served as a basis to a seminar. From this the group developed a special tool to help others develop methods to better hear the needs of children.

There is more information about the guide here


About Family Policy in Finland

See Child and Family Policy in Finland  – the aim of Finland’s family policy is to create a safe environment for children to grow up in and to provide parents with the material and psychological means to have and raise children. In recent years, the emphasis has been on reconciling paid employment and family life, strengthening fatherhood and ensuring an adequate level of income for families. 


About Inter- Country Adoption Affairs

The  Finnish Board of Inter-Country Adoption Affairs  (Finnish Adoption Board) is the expert body in inter-country adoption affairs in Finland. It is subordinated to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Board was founded in 1985 and has since 1 July 1997 acted as the central authority meant in the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention). This is what we understand by adoption in Finland.

See also the Association of Adoptive Families in Finland.


The Nordic perspective on child welfare.

See Social Welfare and Child Welfare politics through Nordic lenses


Children and families are at the heart of social work all over the world, but, until now Nordic perspectives have been rare in the body of English-language child welfare literature. Is there something that makes child welfare ideas and practices that are in use in the Nordic countries characteristically ‘Nordic’? If so, what kinds of challenges do the current globalization trends pose for Nordic child welfare practices, especially for social work with children and families?

Covering a broad range of child welfare issues, this edited collection provides examples of Nordic approaches to child welfare, looking at differences between Nordic states as well as the similarities. It considers, and critically examines, the particular features of the Nordic welfare model – including universal social care services that are available to all citizens and family policies that promote equality and individuality – as a resource for social work with children and families.

Drawing on contemporary research and debates from different Nordic countries, the book examines how social work and child welfare politics are produced and challenged as both global and local ideas and practices. “Social work and child welfare politics” is aimed at academics and researchers in social work, childhood studies, children’s policy and social policy, as well as social work practitioners, policy makers and service providers, all over the world who are interested in Nordic experiences of providing care and welfare for families with children.