On World Children’s Day November 20th, 2016, Mr. Juha Rehula, minister of Family Affairs and Social Services at the time, offered an apology on behalf of the Finnish State to individuals who had suffered various forms of neglect and abuse in Finnish foster care. He addressed the victims saying that the Finnish state had failed them. The apology was prompted by a study by the University of Jyväskylä that focused on first hand experiences of individuals who were in foster care between 1937–1983. Three hundred people volunteered to share their experiences with the researchers. Many of the interviewees said they wanted to participate so that others would not have go through what they experienced in Finnish foster care.
The interviewees reported having experienced physical violence, sexual violence, various other forms of humiliation, malnutrition and lack of proper healthcare. The perpetrators were both adults and other children. According to the study, foster care must do better at hearing the point of view and experiences of the children themselves. As a result, the Finnish government put in place an initiative to improve foster care. It did not and has not initiated plans to pay reparations to the victims.
As one survivor phrased it, “neglect in foster care is not over. It may have metamorphosed into something new. Too often we hear how blatantly the Child Welfare Act, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Finnish constitution are being violated in foster care”.
This was recently confirmed by The Parliamentary Ombudsman who supervises and promotes the legality and the implementation of fundamental and human rights in the activities and actions of the authorities and of private parties performing public tasks. Children can appeal to the Ombudsman concerning their treatment in e.g. foster care. About sixty percent of children’s appeals result in interventions by the Ombudsman, while only about a fifth of appeals made by adults lead to action. Spokesman Tapio Räty interprets this is because children’s appeals are on the mark, they are not trivial.
The widespread abuse that took place in the Finnish foster care is only one example of the systematic failures to protect children in Finland. In fact, in Finland, crimes of sexual violence against children brought to the attention of the authorities have clearly increased in recent years, at the same time as a recent study suggests that only 12% of such crimes are reported, with the most common reason for nondisclosure being the child victim’s belief that the experience was not considered serious enough to report. Additionally, distorted feelings of guilt and shame experienced by child victims have been found to be reasons for nondisclosure. There have also been discussions related to Finnish legislation on the statute of limitations of crimes of sexual violence against children as many victims of sexual abuse, especially from religious communities, have come forward as adults and are no longer able to report crime to police or receive any form of justice or compensation for their suffering.
While the State has recognised the widespread abuse that took place in the foster care, the failure to compensate victims, and the increase in crimes of sexual violence against children in recent years, demonstrate an urgent need for improving preventive measures to protect children, as well as restorative measures and the lengthening of the statute of limitations to ensure past victims’ rights on a national level.