Foster care dispute in Turku goes international
Envoy of President Medvedev travels to Finland
The case of the seven-year-old son of a Finnish-Russian couple who was taken into foster care in Turku reached international dimensions on Tuesday when a child welfare envoy named by President Dmitri Medvedev arrived in Finland to mediate in the matter.
The boy had been taken into foster care by local child welfare authorities, and had spent more than a month in a municipal family centre. After going to school for the first time in a long time on Monday, he escaped to his parents’ home. The boy, his Finnish father and his Russian Mother barricaded themselves in their Turku home, along with the camera crews of three Russian television stations.
The mother says that the family wants the Turku officials to rescind the foster care order, and if this does not happen, she is appealing to Russian officials to take the family to Russia and grant them asylum.
The case has received considerable media attention in Russia in recent weeks. The matter was taken up last week during a visit to Russia by Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party). On Monday, Russia’s child affairs ombudsman Pavel Astahov arrived in Helsinki to discuss the matter with Finnish officials.
Astahov discussed the matter with Riitta Liuksa, director of social services for the City of Turku.
“This discussion was more fruitful than all of the preceding months. A decision needs to be made according to which the child should be at the home of his parents so that the parents would take a step in the direction of the child”, Astahov said.
He also said that he would be willing to personally serve as a guarantor in the case.
“If it turns out that the family cannot take care of the child, I am ready to taken him away from them myself. And I don’t mean that I would take him to Russia in the boot of a car”, Astahov quipped, referring to the controversial case last year in which a Finnish diplomat took the young son of a Russian mother and his Finnish father to Finland.
Astahov also met with Finland’s Ombudsman for Children Maria Kaisa Aula as well as Kari Välimäki, chief of staff at the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health.
A press conference held after the meeting had some comical elements to it, when Denis Arapov, a journalist for the Russian television channel NTV put questions to Aula and Välimäki, who said that they are not at liberty to provide information about the case. The situation was further complicated by the TV reporter’s scanty command of English.
Arapov said that the interest of the Russian media in the matter is natural. “How would you react if a child were taken away from a Finnish parent in Russia?” he asked.
The parents have been interviewed frequently in the Russian media, where the case has been portrayed as an example of anti-Russian bias prevailing in Finland.
Because of confidentiality rules, Finnish social welfare officials have not been able to make any public statements on the matter.
The parents say that the boy was taken into custody because it was claimed that the mother had hit the child.
The boy had spoken of this to his teacher, who reported it to child welfare authorities. The parents say that the teacher misunderstood.
Corporal punishment of children is illegal under Finnish law, and the Turku police are investigating suspicions of assault.
The child had been taken away from the family once before, in December, when the father had thrown his wife out of their home.
Riitta Liuska said that in matters of child welfare, it is always possible to seek an agreement in the matter, and foster care is never a permanent solution.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Foreign ministers Stubb and Lavrov discuss visa-free travel between EU and Russia (10.3.2010)
Russian mother of abducted Anton Salonen astonished at her treatment in Finland (19.8.2009)
Something had to be done, says diplomat who brought abducted boy back to Finland (22.5.2009)