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Surge in complaints by children in care

2018 scandal encouraged more children to speak out, with young people under state guardianship reporting strip searches, solitary confinement and group punishments in care institutions.

Huppariin kääriytynyt anonyymi nuori istuu koulun käytävällä.
One complainant said they were not even allowed out to attend a college entrance exam, while another said punishments were meted out to everyone if one person broke care-home rules. Picture posed by model. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

Official complaints made by children cared for by the state increased dramatically last year, new figures show, following a scandal in 2018 which brought to light abusive and criminal practices in some of the country’s homes for looked-after children.

The publicity around the cases, in the Finnish towns of Muhos and Iitti, led to an increase in awareness that young people in the care system can file a complaint to Finland’s Parliamentary Ombudsman over suspected mistreatment while they are under state guardianship.

The Parliamentary Ombusdman said its office received 63 complaints by under-18s in 2019 and reached 45 decisions, significantly up from just 26 new complaints and seven decisions the year before.

Recurring complaints centred around young people in care institutions being made to strip naked, placed in solitary confinement for long periods, forced to eat in silence or remain indoors.

One complainant said they were not even allowed out to attend a college entrance exam, while another complained of punishments being meted out to everyone if one person broke one of the care-home rules.

In total the office said it dealt with 500 complaints concerning young people in state custody last year, many of which were made by the parents or guardian of the child.

”In almost every case where a child contacts us, we find something there that may not be in line with the law,” said deputy ombudsman Maija Sakslin.

In more extreme cases the Parliamentary Ombudsman can report an institution to the police or require compensation be paid to the child.

In one case two children received 4,000 euros in compensation each for having their fundamental rights breached while placed in a foster family.

Sakslin said that in many places in Finland children in care receive good care and are well looked after, but says that cases where children’s rights are not observed are ”extremely concerning”.

Over 18,000 children in Finland are cared for outside the home, with around 10,000 in state custody.

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