What is child welfare?

The purpose of child welfare services is to protect the rights of children.

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Photo: Kaisa Sunimento

Child welfare services 

Child welfare services support parents and other guardians in raising a child when the family is experiencing a crisis or is under severe strain.   

The purpose of child welfare services is to protect the rights of children.  

The term ‘child welfare’ may be associated with a fear of the child being taken into care. At child welfare services we want to dispel this fear.   

We always aim to help the child and the family so that the child can continue living at home with the family.  

Open child welfare services   

Most child welfare services are provided in open care. Open care means that the child and the family are child welfare clients and the child lives at home.   

When we speak of the primary means of helping a family in child welfare, we mean the support measures in open care.  

Support measures in open care include services like family work, family rehabilitation, group activities and support person activities. Support in open care is always voluntary for the child and the family.   

Explore support measures in open care   

Short-term placement of children outside the home  

If a child is in immediate danger, the child must be placed outside the home under emergency placement.   

The child must be placed under emergency placement if, for example, the parents are unable to take care of the child due to an acute mental health issue, accident or substance abuse, or if the child has been abandoned or mistreated or engages in risk-taking behaviour.   

Emergency placement is not voluntary for the family; it is an activity required by the Child Welfare Act. The senior social worker makes the decision on the child’s emergency placement.  

A child or young person may be placed under short-term placement with a short-term foster family, in reception facilities or with a person who is close to the child or young person.   

Short-term placement is always temporary and is not equivalent to taking the child into care.   

The goal of short-term placement is for the child to return home safely. If investigations show that the child cannot return home safely, the social worker is responsible for preparing care proceedings for the child.  

Short-term placement can also be a support measure in open care. In this case, the child or the whole family can be placed away from home for a short period of time, by mutual agreement. Such a situation may be, for example, the parents’ rehabilitation period, in which the whole family may temporarily move to a rehabilitation institution. Placement in open care is always voluntary for the child and the family.  

Read more about short-term placement of children outside the home

Taking into care  

Care proceedings are the last resort to secure the child’s growth and development. Child welfare services must start care proceedings if the problems are very serious or have lasted a long time.   

Care proceedings are a long process that is usually prepared together with the family. The majority of care proceedings are carried out in agreement with the child and the family.  

Child welfare workers always assess every case separately to determine the best solutions for the child in question. Sometimes they have to make decisions that the child or the parents disagree with. Although the decision to take a child into care is always difficult, it is intended to help the child and the family.  

The child will remain in care for as long as necessary. The care proceedings will end at the latest when the child turns 18.  

Read more about care proceedings


Substitute care  

A child or young person who has been taken into care or has been placed outside the home under long-term placement is a substitute care client.   

A child in care or long-term placement lives with a foster family, in a professional family home or in a children’s home.  

In substitute care, child welfare workers and other employees working with the child work in close cooperation with the child and the foster family, professional family home or children’s home as well as the child’s parents.  

Read more about family placement, professional family homes and children’s homes

Learn more about substitute care social work


After-care and becoming independent  

After-care supports the child or young person after the end of the care proceedings or placement outside the home lasting longer than six months.  

The child or young person is entitled to after-care support for five years after last being a client of child welfare services or until turning 25.   

After-care can help with matters relating to, for example, housing, livelihood, health, studies, work and independent living.  

At the end of after-care, the social worker may refer the young person to other suitable services.  

Read more about after-care

How to become a client?  

A child welfare notification can be submitted by anyone when concerns about a child’s well-being arise.   

You can contact child welfare services yourself if your family is experiencing severe strain or problems and you are worried about your child’s well-being.  

A child welfare notification can also be made anonymously.  

Sometimes the child welfare social worker must take urgent measures on the basis of the notification, and sometimes it is enough to investigate the notification at a calmer pace together with the child and the family members. Very often, a service needs assessment in itself is sufficient support for the family.  

Read more about child welfare notifications and service needs assessments