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Ombudsman calls for end to “cage beds” at centres for disabled youth

An unannounced inspection of facilities in eastern Finland found four cases of children or youths sleeping in beds that are widely considered inhumane.

Honkalampikeskuksen lasten ja nuorten yksikössä käytetty häkkisänky.
One of the banned cage beds in use at the Honkalampi Centre in the North Karelian village of Ylämylly. Image: Oikeusasiamies

In a report issued Wednesday, Finland’s Parliamentary Ombudsman called on social and health care services in North Karelia, eastern Finland, to immediately halt the use of so-called caged beds at facilities for developmentally disabled children and youth.

Director of services for the developmentally disabled at Siun Sote (the joint municipal authority of social and health services in North Karelia), Tarja Hallikainen, said that the beds in question were taken out of use immediately after the ombudsman’s report was issued.

She said that officials are looking for alternatives that will work for their clients. The Ombudsman suggested the use of beds that are closer to the floor, or wider, than ones usually used. The authority also recommended the use of electrically-adjustable beds that can be lowered or raised.

Last year unannounced inspections were carried out at municipal institutions and residential care homes across the North Karelia region, at the request of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s office.

Inspectors found two cases of developmentally disabled clients sleeping in the crib-like beds at some child and youth units, according to a report on the inspections.

The beds were occupied by clients with severe epilepsy, as a way to prevent them from falling out of bed during seizures, the report stated.

Another three clients at two residential care homes for children and adolescents were also reported to be using the beds.

CPT: Cage beds "offensive to human dignity"

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has said that the use of the enclosed beds can be considered offensive to human dignity and has called for an end to the practice.

Decades ago, cage beds were broadly used in institutional settings in Finland and Europe, but their use has sharply declined over the years.

The parents of children who used the banned beds were already aware of the practice, according to Siun Sote’s Hallikainen.

She said the parents did not see anything wrong with using the beds, saying that one parent had even requested one for their child.

However, senior Parliamentary Ombudsman Juha-Pekka Konttinen said parental consent is not an adequate reason for using beds considered to be offensive to human dignity, saying that no consent or cure could justify their use.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s office called on the municipalities to stop using the beds, saying that Siun Sote needs to announce by the end of September which actions have been taken in response to the report’s findings.

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