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Substitute care

If a child is not safe at home or from themself, and there is no other way to change the situation, the child’s care, upbringing and development are arranged through substitute care. This does not necessarily mean that the child is taken into care.


Substitute care means arranging the welfare of a child that has been taken into care, placed urgently away from the child’s home or taken into care by a temporary order by the Administrative Court.

Emergency placement is implemented if a child is in danger

If a child needs help immediately, and no one close to the child can take care of them, the child welfare services must take the child to a safe place. This is called emergency placement.

Emergency  placement is always a temporary order. It may be implemented in situations such as the parents being so intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs that they cannot take care of the child or if a small child is left alone at home for a long time. A child may also cause danger to themself by using alcohol or other drugs, for example. If it is evaluated that the child is in immediate danger, placement can be implemented even if the child or parents object to it.

During placement, the child welfare services have extensive rights to decide on the child’s affairs, though they work closely with parents and guardians. The family’s situation and need for help is assessed during emergency placement. The aim is to return the child to a safe home. A social worker assesses whether the placement can be ended and issues a decision terminating the placement. If it is deemed that it is not safe for the child to return home, preparations for actually taking the child into care can be initiated.

Taking into care is the last resort

Taking into care means that a child is cared for away from home. It is the final option only to be used if the problems are really serious or if they have been ongoing for a long time. Many things have usually occurred before a child is taken into care, and there have been significant efforts to help the child and family. When nothing else works, the law stipulates that the child must be taken into care. The authorities work closely with the child’s parents and guardians, though, and social workers cannot decide on certain matters such as the child’s religion.

Taking into care is prepared together with the family

Taking into care is a long process, which is usually prepared in cooperation with the family. In most cases, taking into care is implemented in cooperation with the child and family.

The grounds for the decision to take a child into care are always provided in writing. Social workers collect all relevant information and they also have to listen to the family’s opinions about the issues. The grounds for the decision to take a child into care must:

  • present the grounds for the claim that a child’s safety has been at risk,
  • explain the manner in which the social services have tried to help the child and why these measures have proven inadequate, and
  • justify how taking into care helps the child and why it is a better option for the child than staying at home.

The parents and the child have the right to access the documents that present the grounds for taking into care. A meeting must also be arranged to explain these grounds to them.

Sometimes a child must be taken into care even if the family opposes it

If a child aged 12 or older or the child’s guardians oppose to the act of taking into care, a court must rule on the case. The Administrative Court examines the situation and rules in the best interests of the child. Decisions of taking into care issued by the Administrative Court can be appealed.

Social workers must provide guidance for the families in contradictory situations. This means that when a child and family are notified of the decision issued on taking into care, the workers must also explain how the decision can be appealed.

Taking into care is always a difficult and complex issue, and its intention is not to act against anybody, but to help the child or young person and their family.

A child taken into care goes to live in a foster family or child welfare institution

Alternative care means that a child placed in care is being cared for away from their home. Usually a child taken into care lives either with a foster family or in a child welfare institution. Prior to a child’s placing away from home, the child welfare workers need to ascertain whether anyone close to the child can take care of them. When choosing an alternative care place, the child’s linguistic, cultural and religious background should be taken into account whenever possible.

The reasons for taking the child into care are explained to the child, including the objectives of alternative care. The child must be given sufficient opportunities to meet the social worker responsible for their affairs.

Contact during placement

Taking into care does not mean that the child is not allowed to have contact with their parents. The child has the right to meet their parents and other people close to them, as well as to communicate with them. All these matters are also recorded in the child’s client plan. The child’s meetings and communication with the parents may be restricted only if they can be shown to be harmful to the child. In this case, a decision must be issued, which can be appealed against. A child aged 12 or older also has the right to refuse to meet the parents.

Placement lasts as long as the child needs it

Placement is valid only as long as the child needs it. The duration depends on issues such as how well the parents are able to take care of their affairs and themselves during the placement. The child welfare services aim to provide the child and the family with such support measures as to allow the child to return home. The social worker responsible for the child’s affairs must evaluate at least once a year whether to continue keeping the child in care. The placement terminates when the child reaches the age of 18 at the latest.





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There are many concepts associated with child welfare. The glossary explains what the most important terms mean.

To the glossary