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Foster homes sought for child refugees

The Save the Children organization is seeking foster homes for unaccompanied refugee children who have been granted asylum in Finland. The EU-funded project will mark the first time that child refugees are placed in private homes in this country.

Pelastakaa Lapset ry:n vapaaehtoistyöntekijä istuu lapsen kanssa lattialla.
A search is underway for families to give homes especially to younger unaccompanied minors. Image: Eveliina Viitanen / Pelastakaa Lapset

Save the Children has launched the project to find foster families in the Uusimaa and Tampere regions. According to the organization's director for South Finland, Kristiina Mattinen, so far it has not been easy.

Two years of EU funding is allowing two Save the Children employees, one in Helsinki and one in Tampere, to focus on the plan. Right now, thought is also going into how families can be prepared to take child refugees into their homes and what types of support they may need.

Children need adults

Kristiina Mattinen is particularly concerned about the youngest unaccompanied asylum seekers. Over the past two years, approximately 3,500 unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Finland. Around 350 of them are under the age of 14.

Last year, just slightly fewer than 1,600 unaccompanied minors were granted asylum or residence permits. Minors who come into the country alone are rarely later joined by their parents. In practice family reunification is nearly impossible.

"We want to offer these children an environment with adults who take care of them and families that they can live their lives with," Mattinen explains.

No need to be super parents

Save the Children has been primarily looking for families who have immigrated to Finland and integrated here. A familiar cultural setting and language would help children adjust. However, ethnically Finnish families and couples would do, as well.

"There's no need to be 'super parents'. It's enough that the family's own life is well balanced," says Kristiina Mattinen.

If enough interested families are found, there will be foster parent training provided. Mattinen is stressing that the training sessions will not be a final commitment, families can take part while still considering if they can take in a child in need of a home.

"I'd hope that as many as possible could give a home to children staying here in Finland without parents," she adds.

Those taking part will receive regular legally-mandated foster family payments and assistance needed in the home.

According to Kristiina Mattinen, unaccompanied minors have been placed in families successfully in Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria. The hope now is that the first foster placements in Finland will be seen in the autumn.

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