Immigrants say child welfare officials lack cultural understanding
Immigrants’ rights advocates say that child welfare officials in the Uusimaa region lack understanding of immigrants’ culture, and that they take an excessively hard line with foreign-born families.
"Far too often the simple fact of being an immigrant is a sufficient reason for officials to see a child as doing poorly, and parents are made the scapegoats", says Mia Pöllä, family coordinator of the Association of Disabled Immigrants.
"There is massive ignorance, as well as attitude problems toward immigrants. The entire attitude-culture that prevails in the system is a cause for concern", says lawyer Leeni Ikonen, who specialises in disputes over child welfare issues around Finland.
Ikonen says that Finnish child welfare authorities do not fulfil the obligations of human rights agreements. Instead, severe child protection measures, such as taking children into custody, and coerced medical care are resorted to far too often.
"The use of psychiatry in child protection is currently the rule in cases in which children are taken into custody. In extreme cases, a young person with behavioural problems can be put into coercive treatment, even though the focus should be on arrangements at school", Ikonen says.
"Many children have been made to look truly sick on paper."
Natalia Nerman, executive director of the Association of Disabled Immigrants, says that Russian-speaking immigrants get very little help and guidance in their own language.
She laments that many Finnish organisations are more interested in helping orphanages in Kazakhstan, than in the plight of Russians who are living in Finland.
Ingrian-born Mia Pöllä says that in many cases in which child welfare authorities become involved, the situation could be resolved by talking and listening, and that officials often resort to very severe measures at very early stages.
She complains that the help that is offered is often experienced as violence by those being helped.
Pöllä says that understanding of foreign cultures and mentalities is needed among child welfare authorities.
"It is normal for a Russian mother that any matters pertaining to her children will make her cry. This does not mean that she is crazy", she says.
Pöllä, a physically disabled Ingrian returning migrant, fought with child welfare authorities for 12 years.
Encouraged by her mother, who was already in Finland, Mia Pöllä emigrated to Finland from Petrozavodsk in 1991, when Mia's daughter Marika was two years old. Marika was a premature baby, and was sick often.
In 1993 Mia had a second child, and two years later her marriage ended. At that time, it was agreed that Marika should temporarily live with the grandmother.
However, when Mia wanted Marika to come back, the mother wanted to keep her, and after Marika ran away from her grandmother, the grandmother told child welfare authorities that Mia was an unfit parent.
Late last year, after a long process during which time Marika was forcibly taken into psychiatric care, Mia Pöllä got her daughter back, after a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court.
Merja Anis a social affairs expert in the Finland Proper region in the southwest of Finland, says that immigrants need child welfare services geared for their special needs.
Anis is currently working on a doctoral thesis on child welfare work among immigrants.