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Yle investigates: One in ten foster homes in Finland has broken the law

At least 50 foster homes and child welfare institutions have been reprimanded by authorities for irregularities.

Koronavirustilanne aiheuttaa huolta lastensuojelun lapsissa. Arkistokuva ei liity tapaukseen. Image: Terhi Liimu / Yle

Over the past three years, Finnish authorities have been taking a closer look at the activities of the 500 or so public and private foster homes in the country. They have uncovered a number of irregularities , including some that led officials to shut down a foster home down in southern Finland last week.

Yle's A-studio discussion programme conducted a separate review of foster care facilities across the country and discovered that regional state authorities and the parliamentary ombudsman have reprimanded at least 50 different providers for various shortcomings in recent years.

Several stories of mistreatment have been reported in Finland from time to time, but Yle's analysis of authorities' records from 2017-2019 reveals that legal violations are more widespread than previously believed and occurred across the country.

The total number of operational shortcomings suggest lapses at ten percent of foster homes, ranging from the infringement of child protection laws to the violation of children's fundamental and human rights and of irregularities in documentation.

Examples of the dozen infractions recorded by the authorities over the last two years include a unit in Harjavalta in western Finland receiving a citation for exceeding capacity and employing inadequately trained personnel, workers screaming and cursing at a home in Haukipudas in the northwest and illegal restraints being used on children at a unit in Kuopio, eastern Finland.

"People don't believe us"

The southeast Finland police department is currently investigating irregularities at Loikalan Kartano, a foster home that made headlines last week. They say they suspect the facility's management of isolating residents, who are forcibly stripped and otherwise treated contemptuously.

Minors aged 14-17 at the home told inspectors that they were asked to undress when they arrived at the facility, and were then segregated from others. They were not allowed to move about inside their units and had to seek permission to leave their rooms by knocking on the door from the inside. They were also reportedly not allowed to speak during meals.

The deputy parliamentary 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 home's residents.

21-year-old Miro Määttänen has lived in five different foster care facilities in Finland. He said that most people ignore what young people have to say about their experiences in foster placement.

"I get the feeling that people don't believe us. They just convince themselves that it is just another troubled youth running off at the mouth," he added.

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