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Foster home in southern Finland shuttered over suspected abuse

Reports of teens being stripped naked, isolated and forced to eat in silence are being investigated by police.

Loikalan Kartano in Iitti, southern Finland Image: Samuli Ikäheimo / Lehtikuva

Regional authorities in southern Finland have ordered that Pro Manors Ltd terminate activities at its foster care facility known as Loikalan Kartano in the Iitti municipality of the Kymenlaakso region in southern Finland.

Officials said they discovered serious shortcomings at the facility, with inappropriate discipline and restraints that were not in accordance with Finland's child welfare laws. The foster home was also understaffed, while personnel were inadequately trained.

Regional authorities report that the operations were not fully licensed and did not fulfil the conditions required for the provision of foster care. The shortcomings were discovered on a surprise visit from the Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland in June.

Officials now demand that the home be decommissioned by the beginning of November, and says it will arrange substitute placements for children and youth who are currently living at the facility.

Director mum on closure

Heidi Rauha, director of the foster care facility, said she does not wish to comment on the decision to close the home.

"I am shocked. I find the situation strange in this law-abidingcountry. If the authorities make these kinds of decisions, then they must of course move forward with them," she said.

Rauha is still contemplating whether she will use her right to appeal the decision.

"We have done a lot of work to fix the operations and we have been waiting for decisions. The process has taken almost a year, in practice. I am not however ready to comment yet today," she said.

Police investigation underway

In May, the deputy ombudsman of parliament requested that the regional authorities examine Loikalan Kartano to see if activities complied with permits and operational practices. The request was issued after the ombudsman's office made an inspection of the facility one year ago.

This previous inspection discovered that youth were stripped naked and isolated at the facility. The minors placed at Loikalan Kartano at the time were between the ages of 14 and 17. The young people at the foster home told the inspectors that they were asked to undress when they arrived at the facility, and were then cut off from other people in the building. They were not allowed to move about inside their units and had to seek permission to leave their room by knocking on the door from the inside.

The minors were also reportedly not allowed to speak during meals.

The deputy ombudsman said the decision to have regional authorities inspect the facility was based on the teens' reports, written reports about restraint decisions, staff inspections and records drawn up about the placed minors.

The Southeastern Finland Police Department is investigating the irregularities at Loikalan Kartano, and says it suspects the foster home's management of imprisonment, coercion and assault. The exact nature of the offenses will become clearer as the investigation progresses. The police say they have two main suspects, one of whom is the head of the facility.

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