Finnish Orthodox Church expresses concern in foster care dispute

3/10/2012

A dispute over a decision to take four children of a Finnish-Russian family into foster care has caught the attention of Finnish church organisations. The Orthodox Parish of Helsinki plans to investigate whether or not the decision is well-founded.

“We were in contact with the mother already before this case. From our point of view it appears that the safety of the child is not in jeopardy in the family”, says head dean Juha Lampinen.

The Finnish Ecumenical Council is also calling for an investigation into the matter.

“It is Kafkaesque and unusual that a five-day-old child is taken into custody out of the mother’s arms”, says Heikki Huttunen, Secretary General of the Ecumenical Council.

Huttunen does not want to take sides in the matter, because he has only heard the mother’s side of the story. However, he is concerned at the possibility that a family with a foreign background might be treated differently from a family of native-born Finns. Juha Lampinen suspects that cultural differences and excessive caution on the part of child welfare officials might be playing a role.

The 6-year-old daughter and the two-year-old twins of the Vantaa family were taken into custody in early September, and the newborn son was taken from her mother last week, soon after the birth.
The mother says that the reason that was given for the move was that the father had sapped the oldest of the children. She insists that the father is not violent, and that her daughter had been bullied at school because of her ethnic origin, and that she suffered a concussion.

“I am not suspected of anything, but now my baby cannot get any breast milk. I have said that I can go to a shelter with the children for the time that the matter is investigated, but they did not agree to that.”

The Orthodox dean who has known the family for a long time, says that the family has had problems in reconciling the Orthodox faith of the mother and the Muslim faith of the Sudanese-born father. He says that the problems have been resolved.

Director Anna Cantell-Forsbom of Vantaa Family Services, denies that any racism is involved, saying that there cannot be different standards for people of different nationalities when interpreting the law.

She does not know the details of the case. She also says that a single slap is not sufficient grounds for placing a child into foster care. Such a move requires that there should be a “serious concern” by an official for the safety of the children.

The parents will be heard in the coming week. In the coming days a court decision is expected on whether or not the foster care order was justified.

Meanwhile, Russia says that it will take up the treatment of families with children in Finland at the Council of Europe, an organisation which promotes and develops human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in European countries.

Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee of the Russian Duma told the newspaper Izvestija that the Russian delegation to the council will probably raise the issue in the council’s Parliamentary Assembly or in its leading bodies.
The matter has been a major news item in Russia, and Russia’s Ombudsman for Children Pavel Astahov denounced the decision of the Vantaa officials as politically motivated, pointing out that it happened in advance of an upcoming meeting between the Finnish and Russian presidents.

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