Today I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with some Social Services professionals in Kuusamo, Finland. I first met with Heidi, a child protection worker for Kuusamo. She was able to give me a little insight into the needs of youth in this area, what it means to be in government care here, and the requirements of foster parents and other staff working with these youth. There are currently 200 children in the youth child protection system but only 47 of these live outside their family’s home. Of those 47 living outside the home, 34 are living in the custody of the municipality or city and 13 are in voluntary placements. There are facilities in Kuusamo that function as a group home, some that focus on independent living skills, and some that are like our foster homes in the USA which they refer to as “family care” here in Kuusamo. The family care homes are set up and run like foster homes in the States; where foster parents care for the needs of unrelated youth in their home. Family care placements are the first option for placing a youth as the least restrictive option. According to Heidi, there are placements made within families (i.e. grandparents caring for their grandchildren) but this is very rare and is new to this community. The number one reason youth are placed into foster care in Kuusamo is due to psychological problems suffered by his or her parents, followed closely by parental issues with drugs and alcohol. Foster parents are reimbursed/paid by the government for each youth placed (average is around 1000€ per month) and the rate is calculated by the government based on the child’s age and needs.
After this, I was able to visit a family care home in Kuusamo. This home served the needs of teenage males and females and helped teach them independent living skills. Each child was treated as a part of the family here and returned to his or her biological family for biweekly weekend visits. Throughout their time as a family care home, Oili and Jari have had over 100 youth come in and out of their home. They help facilitate art, music and animal therapies with their youth. They also own a riding stable where the children in foster care can learn to care for horses and even learn to ride. The stables are open to tourists as well and there are also therapies for disabled individuals.
There are many similarities between the United States and Finland’s social services but also many differences. Today I was able to learn some of both and the exchange of professional information is a valuable souvenir I will be taking from Kuusamo.