Minister of Social Affairs and Health Kaisa Juuso (PS) talked to reporters in the foyer of the Parliament House in Helsinki on Wednesday, 10 April 2024. Juuso on Tuesday confirmed to Helsingin Sanomat that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has set up a task force to draft a proposal for instituting a hybrid rehabilitation service for minors who use violence, commit crimes and have serious substance abuse problems. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) has started drafting amendments to the child welfare act to set up a rehabilitation system for children who commit crimes, use violence and have serious substance abuse problems, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

The Ombudsman for Children called for the establishments of such hybrid units in a statement issued in conjunction its annual report, echoing long-running demands by experts.

Minister of Social Affairs and Health Kaisa Juuso (PS) on Tuesday wrote in an e-mail to Helsingin Sanomat that a task force has been asked to present its proposal for the amendments required to set up an “integrated and closed” rehabilitation service for minors by the end of August.

“Children who have serious substance abuse problems, use violence and commit crimes are a threat not only to themselves but also to their surroundings. They place an enormous burden on care providers, and ordinary child welfare services are not enough for them,” she said. “Solving these problems will require broad-based inter-administrative co-operation and multidisciplinary commitment.”

Prime Minister Orpo on Sunday stated to YLE that the units have to be set up.

Presently children with such issues are entered into the child welfare and adolescent psychiatry system. The Ombudsman for Children pointed out, though, that child welfare services have neither the expertise nor possibilities to organise the necessary treatment, whereas psychiatry wards cannot be long-term homes for children.

The hybrid units would bring together elements of child welfare and adolescent psychiatry. Juuso gauged in her e-mail to the newspaper that such units could be set up by the start of 2026, with the costs to be determined as part of the impact assessments linked to the child welfare act reform.

The number of children who would require such care is around 30–50 a year, according to Juuso.

YLE on Thursday revealed that police have been called to state-run reform schools – typically the last-resort form of child welfare services – on average ten times a month this year to deal with children behaving violently.

“We have serious offenders in reform schools who even seek to control the staff with fear,” Kaisa Tammi, the acting director of state-run child welfare units, commented to the public broadcasting company.

Violence by children has emerged as a topic of public debate following a deadly school shooting in Vantaa on 2 April 2024.

Ombudsman for Children Elina Pekkarinen highlighted that suicidal and violent behaviour in children has increased recently, with a small share of children in such bad condition that they cannot be cared for at home, in a foster family or child welfare facility.

“They are so demanding that they can’t be home and they can’t be handled by ordinary children’s homes. When placed into an ordinary school, these kids and youth can easily disrupt the entire class,” she stated in a recent interview with Helsingin Sanomat.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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