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Adoptions within Finland remain rare

Would-be parents sometimes have to wait five years to adopt a child born in Finland.

Vauva nukkuu pinnasängyssä.
Only a few babies born in Finland are adopted annually. Image: Simon Denson / AOP

Infants born in Finland are very rarely given up for adoption.

The few cases each year typically involve a surprise pregnancy that is not detected until a late stage, when the child's mother may consider finding another family for the infant, says Kaisa Tervonen-Arnkil. She oversees domestic adoptions at Pelastakaa Lapset, the Finnish branch of the international NGO Save the Children.

"The parent who gives birth to the child always has at least eight weeks to consider the decision, and both parents must agree to giving the infant up for adoption," she explains.

Save the Children handles about 70 percent of all adoption counselling cases in Finland. An average of 13 Finnish babies are adopted through the organisation annually, out of nearly 50,000 births in the country.

Meanwhile the number of children adopted from abroad has dropped from over 300 annually in the early 2000s to just 52 last year.

Waiting time can be 4-5 years

Save the Children regional director Kristiina Mattinen says that the NGO is being approached by more and more couples who want to adopt from abroad.

"Many of them know that waiting times in Finland can be as long as 4-5 years, and that it may be faster to adopt from another country," she says.

In domestic adoptions, the biological parents may express preferences as to what kind of family they want to child to grow up in.

"For instance, some want the child to go to a family that has dogs, because they have always had them at home. Some prefer a rural family while others specify an urban family," Mattinen says.

She notes that in Finland it is much more common for children to go to foster homes than to be adopted.

"We actively aim for adoption to be better taken into consideration as a option in these cases," says Mattinen. "Adoption brings stability into a child's life, which forms the best basis for his or her favourable development."

Age can be an obstacle to parenthood

Tervonen-Arnkil explains that all adoption applicants in Finland undergo at least a year of adoption counselling and training before they can apply for a permit from the Finnish Adoption Board. It operates under Valvira, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, which in turn is overseen by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

An approved permit is valid for two years, but can be extended.

Applicants must be under the age of 50 at the time of adoption, so the process must be started years before that point. In addition, the age difference between the adopting parent and child must be at least 18 years but no more than 45 years. Each parent must be in good physical and mental health and have no criminal record.

Tervonen-Arnkil notes that many cases involve intra-family adoption, most often in so-called 'new families' where people adopt their partners' biological children from previous relationships.

According to the Family Federation of Finland (Väestöliitto), the number of babies born in the country annually has dropped from around 60,000-65,000 in the 1980s and early '90s, dipping around the turn of the millennium and rising again slightly to just over 60,000 in 2011.

Since then, it has dropped steadily to just over 47,000 last year. The total fertility rate fell to 1.4 per woman, the lowest ever recorded in the country's history.

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