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What you need to know about Finland's child welfare system

False child welfare reports can cause many to question why social workers do not investigate and dismiss them.

Parent and child
Image: Mari Nupponen / Yle

False reports to child welfare authorities can cause emotional and financial distress when they occur. People at the centre of such allegations may also grapple with feelings of frustration and disappointment with the system. This week's APN looks at the issue and digs deep for a better understanding of how the Finnish child welfare system actually works.

*Stephen says he has struggled for nine years to clear his name after false allegations involving his children were made to child protection authorities. He told All Points North that he has taken the matter to his local Regional Administrative Authority (AVI), which is looking into the case and that he has also filed a criminal complaint with police over the matter. His complaints are currently under investigation.

Stephen's experience parallels that of public figure, Johannes Koski, the founder of a new anti-racism movement known as Silakkaliike. In January, Koski went public with his opponents' efforts to mobilise a campaign of false child welfare reports against him. Finnish media outlets such as daily Helsingin Sanomat picked up the story (in Finnish).

Story continues after audio.

This week APN explores what happens when people make groundless child protection reports. You can listen to the podcast via this embedded player, Yle Areena, Spotify, iTunes or your normal pod player using the RSS feed.

Audio: Yle News

Confusion about Finnish system

People like Stephen have often wondered why social workers do not spend more time investigating claims made against them.

Päivi Petrelius, a development manager with the National Institute of Health and Welfare, told APN that a common misconception about the Finnish child welfare system is that it operates like a court to investigate claims, as may be the case in other countries.

"Child protection authorities are not there to investigate whether something has happened or not. That's something that the police has to do if there is a crime against a child. The child protection authorities' duty is to work with the families so that the child feels and is safe. That's the main responsibility," she explained.

She added that this might seem confusing since in other countries such as the UK, it is the courts and forensic system that investigate these accusations. And she noted that the service system in Finland is very different from systems in other English-speaking countries.

The right to appeal official decisions

APN also spoke with Anna Miettinen, a social work researcher from the University of Tampere. She listed a number of alternatives for individuals who have either been subjected to false claims or who feel that they have not been served by the child welfare system. She said that it is best to contact local authorities directly, including the social workers in question and their managers to present evidence to refute inaccurate allegations.

"Second, it's possible to make a complaint to the regional administrative agency (AVI)... persons have the right to make a complaint about the decisions made by local authorities. There are no fees for the investigation that follows the complaint," she noted.

"You can make a complaint to the parliamentary ombudsperson... if you feel that a public authority or official has not observed the law or fulfilled their duty. You can make a complaint in a matter concerning yourself but you can also make it on behalf of someone else or together with other people," she added.

Join the conversation

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, just contact us via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter account, or at yle.news@yle.fi.

This week's show was presented by Denise Wall. Our producer was Priya Ramachandran D'souza and the sound engineer this week was Anttoni Wikström.

* Name changed to protect the privacy of the guest and his family.

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