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Deputy-Ombudsman examining methods used by fifteen municipalities


Restriction measures used by child welfare institutions were not founded in an Act

 
Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin has decided to examine how some municipalities in southern Finland have overseen the arrangement of foster care for children who have been taken into care and placed in a children's home.

The decision is based on observations that were made on an unannounced inspection visit last March. The target of the inspection was a children's home maintained by a private service producer in southern Finland.

It emerged during the visit that some of the restriction measures used and practices followed in the institution were contrary to the Child Welfare Act or meant an intervention in the child inmates' rights in a way that was not founded in an Act.

The Deputy-Ombudsman also pointed out that appropriate decisions had not been made for all of the restrictions used. In addition, the objects of the restrictions had been, contrary to the Child Welfare Act, children who had been placed as a support measure for open care.

Not all of the children in the home knew, either, which worker had been assigned to them in the municipality's child welfare department.

Restrictions must be founded in the Child Welfare Act

The institution had restricted, among other things, the children's rights to meet and maintain contact with persons close to them. In some situations, the children's freedom of movement had also been restricted. Examples of the things that were prohibited for the children in the rules of the institution were visible piercings, mouth jewellery and "gaudy" hair colouring. In addition, there were separate rules about how girls dressed.

A central objective of restriction measures in accordance with the Child Welfare Act is to try to safeguard the purpose of taking a child into care and at the same time protect the child from itself or another person.

Restriction measures can be employed only in situations specified in the Act and subject to the preconditions stipulated therein. They may not, for example, be used routinely as a means of upbringing that applies to all children placed in care and they must never be used as a punishment.

The measure chosen in each particular case must be the one that least limits the child's right of self-determination or another of its fundamental rights. If milder measures are adequate, restrictions may not be applied at all.

It is a municipality's task to oversee institutional care

The Child Welfare Act requires a municipality that has placed a child in care to oversee that the placement in care takes place in accordance with the Act.

If a municipality that has placed a child in care observes in the operation of the care place any defects or shortcomings of a kind that could affect the treatment or care of the children placed there, it must immediately notify the municipality of placement and the regional state administrative agency. Notification must also be made to other municipalities from where children are known by the municipality obliged to make the notification to have been placed in care in the municipality where the facility in question is located.

The Child Welfare Act requires that children must always be provided with an adequate opportunity to meet personally with the municipal social welfare worker responsible for their affairs or some other child welfare worker. The provision entitles a child to meet one-on-one with its own worker and discuss matters relating to itself and implementation of foster care with that person.

On the basis of the observations she made on her inspection visit, Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin decided to study how municipalities placing children in care have overseen the use of restriction measures and in what way the right of a child taken into care to have personal discussions with the social worker responsible for its affairs has been promoted and safeguarded.

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Tapio Räty, tel. +358 (0)9 4321 or Legal Adviser Anne Kumpula, tel. +358 (0)9 4321.