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  • Author or Editor: Tarja Pösö x
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Child protection—as with many other types of human services nowadays—takes place in many locations: public administration buildings, family homes, children’s homes and courts, just to mention some. Such locations have provided the context for many well-known, child protection ethnographies (for example Pithouse, 1998; Dingwall et al, 2014). More recent ethnographies examine movements between these different locations: moving from an agency to the family home or to the court, or having discussions with children while driving from one location to another (Ferguson, 2016). As more and more social work is done virtually and different forms of online technologies influence social work practices and interaction therein (Boddy and Dominelli, 2017), even virtual spaces have become a research interest.

As a result, ethnographic research in human services should not take for granted that the choice of location as the field of study is straightforward. Increasingly, the idea of the field in ethnography as concretely sited does not coincide well with the variety and dynamics of the fields where human services function. Fieldwork carried out in a child protection office provides a different view on the legitimacy of decision-making than ethnographic work on social media sites where service users advocate for their rights in child protection. Nevertheless, both sites could be interesting for a researcher studying decision-making.

From the point of view of fields and locations, the fragmentation of child protection is an important contextual factor to take into consideration.

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In Finland, inter-country and domestic adoptions are guided by the Adoption Act. A few children are adopted from care but most domestic adoptions are step-parent adoptions in reconstituted families. It is thus hardly surprising that the concept of ‘adoptions from care’ does not exist in Finnish legislation, policy or practice.

The history of adoption legislation is longer in Finland than that of child welfare legislation. Ever since the first Adoption Act in 1925, adoption and child welfare legislation and practice have been organised as two separate and different types of interventions into family life. Throughout the history of adoptions, their profile has changed considerably. Domestic adoptions were common up until the 1970s (Kauppi and Rautanen, 1997). In the post-war period, many children were placed with new families through adoption or adopted abroad (Kauppi and Rautanen, 1997; Pösö, 2009). In fact, immediately after the Second World War, more children were adopted than placed in foster families by care order decisions. During the war, approximately 70,000 children were transferred to Sweden and Denmark as ‘war children’ for their safety (Korppi-Tommola, 2008). The volume of adoptions and ‘war children’ had an impact on later generations as many experienced the separation of children from their parents as part of the country’s history and, perhaps, their own family history. In the 1970s, the profile of adoption slowly changed towards inter-country adoptions with Finland as a receiving country. The numbers of inter-country adoptions started to grow when legislation regulating inter-country adoptions was passed in 1985.

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The shortcomings of the Finnish child protection system have been vividly highlighted by the reports of historic abuse in residential and foster care and by some fatal tragedies. Nevertheless, very little academic research on errors and mistakes in child protection exists. The chapter thus aims to capture this fragmented and unexpressed field in the Finnish system. In doing so, the chapter presents and analyses the preventative and reactive approaches to errors as defined by child welfare legislation. Examples of preventative approaches are regulations requiring some services and practitioners to be licenced and registered, a rather recent way to regulate practice and its quality. Examples of reactive approaches are the rights given to service-users (parents as well as children) to make complaints about and appeal decisions and the treatment they receive. A new practice is the regulation introduced in 2014 giving social workers the right and duty to report problems they encounter in their practice, a form of request for ‘institutional whistle-blowing’. In addition to the legal guidelines, the chapter will examine the national policy programmes which indirectly address errors. These programmes aim to guarantee that services are ‘rightly timed and tailored’ and that the assessments of children’s needs and risks are ‘correctly’ made. These reactive and preventative approaches may, however, have some unintended consequences which will be empirically highlighted. Consequently, it becomes clear that the Finnish approach is coloured by trust in practitioners and service-users and their skills, competences and good intentions to tackle errors, mistakes and wrongdoings. This reflects the overall rationale of child protection as a form of service provided by public administration. Trust may overrule a critical examination of – and learning from – errors and mistakes. As the very organisation of social and health care services is rapidly changing, the trust-based approach might soon be challenged.

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This article examines children’s and parents’ positions as rights holders and family members in child welfare decision making as seen by social workers who prepare child removal decisions. The study is based on qualitative interviews with social workers, each of which includes the story of one child’s case. The interviews were conducted in Finland, where the consent or objection expressed by parents and children of a certain age determine the decision-making process, as each of them can independently express a view about the removal proposal. The study highlights how family relatedness shapes the parties’ autonomy and self-determination through intergenerational, interparental and other dynamics of emotional and power relations. Relational autonomy is emphasised more than individual autonomy in the social workers’ descriptions. It is suggested that self-determination needs to be refined so that it acknowledges family relatedness as well as individuals as rights holders.

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This article addresses the ‘temporal black box’ of care by exploring how children and social workers view the first months in care. Although practice and policy are built on time in different ways (for example, long- and short-term care), very little attention has so far been given to the different temporalities included in care. The focus here is on interpretative practices of addressing time instead of describing the use of time or measuring its use. The data consists of interviews with children in care as well as surveys and workshops with social workers in two Finnish municipalities. The analysis highlights children’s temporal agency, and how they navigate between the present, past and future when in care for the first months. Social workers’ view on time is described in particular in terms of organisational and professional time and their clash. In both views, time is deeply interwoven with social relations and systems, so it is argued that the complexity and multidimensionality of time should be recognised in child welfare research, practice and policy.

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This chapter presents an actual description of residential child protection in Finland. The material is interpreted on the basis of culture and child protection policy. In Finland, practitioners from different fields are involved in residential child protection work: health care professionals, youth workers and social work professionals. Residential child protection facilities in Finland receive children of all ages. Such residential facilities are described. There are many children and young people in residential care, and one should assume responsibility for them despite the fact that they are not necessarily seen.

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International Perspectives on Children’s Rights, Family Preservation and State Intervention

EPDF and EPUB available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND.

This book explores how children’s rights are practised and weighed against birth and adoptive parents’ rights and examines how governments and professionals balance rights when it is decided that children cannot return to parental care.

From different socio-political and legal contexts in Europe and the United States, it provides an in-depth analysis of concepts of family, contact, the child’s best-interest principle and human rights when children are adopted from care.

Taking an international comparative approach to these issues, this book provides detailed information on adoption processes and shares learning from best practice and research across country boundaries to help improve outcomes for all children in care for whom adoption may be the placement of choice.

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All countries are signatories to the principles and rights laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC and comparative studies show that, at the national level, there are some similar basic principles underpinning the family welfare and child protection systems in many high-income countries (Gilbert et al, 2011; Skivenes et al 2015; Burns et al, 2017; Berrick et al, forthcoming). These basic principles include: the central importance of the best interest and well-being of the child when key decisions are taken; an emphasis on family preservation and valuing the child’s relationships with birth parents and siblings; principles of least intrusion from the state; and the child protection system only having secondary responsibility for children compared with the family. However, the degree to which governments focus on each of these principles differs, and this is especially so if one considers the potentially contradictory principles that are most relevant when considering placement policies when children need to be removed and come into public care. In the majority of cases, therefore, there is scope for interpretation about what course of action will be ‘in the child’s best interest’, leaving space for courts, child protection front-line staff and, indeed, whole countries to determine the balance between these commonly accepted principles. It is not an exaggeration to point out that parental rights and family preservation have a strong standing in most states and systems, with the result that the rights of the child often come second to parental rights and are challenging for nation states and courts to respect and promote.

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This book has its focus on a very special group of children, namely, children in public care for whom adoption may be appropriate. It is about children who, for various reasons, are the responsibility of the child protection system and the government in a country. The traditional division of responsibilities between the family and the state has been altered for these children; for them, it is the state that has the formal responsibility to raise them and evoked the parens patriae. Of course, in practice, children are raised by foster parents, kin and extended family, and residential care workers; however, it is nevertheless the state that has the formal authority to make decisions about the child, and to ensure that the child’s needs are appropriately met, as would any good parent.

The recent WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission article ‘A future for the world’s children?’ (Clarke et al, 2020) measures the foundational conditions for today’s children, across the world, to survive and thrive. The nine countries in this book are, with two exceptions, among the top 20 in terms of children’s living conditions. The exceptions are Estonia (ranked 27) and the US (ranked 39) (Clarke et al, 2020). As we remarked upon in the introductory chapter, the countries approach their responsibilities towards children in different ways, with those approaches varying from risk-oriented child protection systems to family service systems with a focus on the family and on children’s rights (Gilbert et al, 2011).

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