According to Finland's National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL), a total of 139,368 child welfare notifications were submitted to Finnish authorities in 2017, a 15 percent increase on the year before. Experts say the rising numbers might not necessarily be a bad sign, however, as it might also indicate that people in Finland may be growing more aware of young people's wellbeing and more inclined to intervene if they think a child might need help.
Notifications to child welfare authorities in Finland are usually made by the Finnish authorities, people that work with children or youth for a living, or private individuals.
Finnish police required to file
Most of the reports concern teens, aged 13 to 17, and for this age group, the majority of the reports originate with the police or the youth's schools. Police in Finland are required to file a child welfare notification if an underage person has committed a crime, used intoxicants, or has been present when incidences of domestic violence have taken place.
Recent figures show that the most child welfare notifications were made in the eastern region of South Karelia. Notification numbers there grew by 22 percent between 2016 and 2017.
"After the new laws on child welfare came into effect, we visited our partner organisations and provided training, so now the number of notifications has grown," says Raija Kojo, the head of child welfare services in the region.
She says that the majority of child welfare notifications in South Karelia concerned teenagers and were often prompted by divorces.
"Unfortunately, when feuds over visitation and custody rights go on for a long time, the fighting and difference of opinion becomes apparent in one parent submitting a notification on the other. They think it is a way to end the disagreement," Kojo says.
No one reason for the increase
THL's research professor Tarja Heino says that there is no overlying reason that can be distinguished for the rise in child welfare notifications involving teens. No nationwide statistics are kept on the individual reasons, and significant differences between Finland's 19 regions seem to exist.
"Ostrobothnia has the lowest incidence. Maybe it shows that neighbours are more reluctant to put their nose in other people's business there," she says.
Each child welfare notification is examined by a social worker, who contacts the family and discusses things with both the child and their family. Based on these discussions, the social worker makes a decision about the follow-up measures that must be taken.
"In most of the cases, the investigation determines that the family's situation is just fine and no measures to ensure the child's protection are necessary," says Kojo.
In South Karelia, just one in 1,000 of the child welfare notifications leads to a child or youth being taken away from their family and placed in protective care.