Skip to content


This glossary explains the meaning of some relevant concepts in the context of services offered to children and families.


Administrative court (Hallinto-oikeus)

The Finnish Constitution requires that all public services comply with the law. Decisions made by authorities are usually subject to appeal, and all decisions must include information about how and to whom an appeal can be addressed. The Administrative Court handles appeals from individuals and organisations against decisions made by public authorities in administrative matters.

After-care (Jälkihuolto)

After-care refers to the support and help provided after alternative care. After-care is intended to facilitate a child or young person returning home or becoming independent. After-care may continue until the young person turns 25 years old.

Alternative care, out-of home care, extra-familial care, substitute care (Sijaishuolto)

Alternative 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.

Anticipatory child welfare notification (Ennakollinen lastensuojeluilmoitus)

An anticipatory child welfare notification is made before the birth of a child if there is reason to suspect that the child may need support from the child welfare services once born. This may be required if the parents have serious mental health problems or addiction, for example. The notification allows the welfare services to discuss necessary support measures, care or rehabilitation with future parents in advance.

Application (Hakemus)

Proceedings in a child welfare case can also be initiated by the parents or the child contacting child welfare services and requesting help. This is called an application.

Assessment of the need for services (Palvelutarpeen arviointi)

When social welfare workers receive information about anyone in need of support, they assess the urgency of the need. People can contact the social welfare services themselves, but information about their circumstances may be brought forward by another authority. A social welfare worker will meet family members several times to discuss the situation and services required. The assessment must be made within three months of the date a case was submitted.

Child and family specific child welfare (Lapsi- ja perhekohtainen lastensuojelu)

Child and family specific child welfare is implemented by investigating the need for child welfare measures and drawing up a client plan, as well as providing support measures in open care. Child and family specific child welfare also includes a child’s emergency placement as well as substitute care and after-care.

Child supervisor (Lastenvalvoja)

A child supervisor is someone who meets with families when they need to agree on custody issues, children’s rights to see their parents or child support after a separation or divorce. Child supervisors do not decide on the content of agreements, but they assist parents in drafting the agreements and ensure that the agreements are not detrimental to the best interests of the child. Child supervisors can also confirm a child’s paternity and maternity.

Child support (Elatusapu)

Both parents are responsible for supporting children under the age of 18 even if they do not live together. When parents separate or divorce, they must agree on child support. Child support is the money that a parent liable for maintenance pays to the other parent on a regular basis to contribute to the costs of supporting their child. This may be the case if the parent does not support the child in any other way and does not live in the same household, for example. The level of child support is determined by the child’s individual needs and the parents’ financial situation. It is advisable to agree on child support in writing and have the agreement confirmed by a social welfare board.

Child welfare (Lastensuojelu)

Child welfare is the service task of society, the aim of which is to guarantee a child’s balanced development and wellbeing. Child welfare is divided into child and family specific, as well as preventive, child welfare.

Child Welfare Act (Lastensuojelulaki)

The Child Welfare Act determines regulations concerning child welfare. In addition to the Child Welfare Act, the Social Welfare Act, the Child Custody and Right of Access Act and the Convention on the Rights of the Child also govern the protection and treatment of children.

Child welfare institution (Lastensuojelulaitos)

A child welfare institution is an institution, in which trained workers are responsible for taking care of children and young people placed in care. For example, children’s homes, youth homes, reception homes, reformatories and family support centres are child welfare institutions. In addition to institutional care, child welfare institutions may also provide open care and after care services. In Finland, these institutions are relatively small and their aim is to offer children a home-like environment. They comply with the law and their activities and they are monitored.

Child welfare notification (Lastensuojeluilmoitus)

A child welfare notification means that a child welfare social worker has been notified about a child that may need help. A child welfare notification is submitted to the municipal social office by telephone, in writing or by paying a visit personally to a social office. Any person, who is concerned about a child’s wellbeing, can submit a child welfare notification. Authorities working with children and families are obliged to submit a child welfare notification, if they are concerned about a child’s wellbeing.

Child welfare social worker (Lastensuojelun sosiaalityöntekijä)

Child welfare social workers work in the public sector. Their duties include handling the matters of child welfare clients as well as client-specific planning, organisation, follow-up and evaluation of services. A child welfare social worker must be professionally qualified in accordance with the law.

Children’s home (Lastenkoti)

A children’s home is a child welfare institution, where children and young people placed in care live. Trained workers are responsible for the care of children and young people placed in care. In Finland, children’s homes resemble homes, and they are never very big. Children’s homes comply with the law in their work, and their activities are monitored.

Client plan (Asiakassuunnitelma)

In the context of child welfare, a client plan is a document containing the matters for which the child and family need help, and which is aimed to amend. It is also registered in the client plan how and when child welfare services will help a child and family. A client plan must always be drawn up for a child who is a child welfare services’ client. A client plan must be revised when necessary, and at least once a year. When necessary, an own client plan will be drawn up for the parents.

Contact with the social services to assess the need for support

Children or their guardians can contact social services for help. Anyone who is concerned about the welfare of a child can also contact social services. A member of school or nursery staff can contact the local social services together with a child or parent. If it is not possible or appropriate to contact social services with a family member present (in matters of urgency, for example), a person with a duty to report must file a child welfare notification. After contact has been made, the situation will be assessed and the child’s guardians contacted. Each contact is followed through and the need for services assessed as necessary.

Early childhood education (Varhaiskasvatus)

Early childhood education is for children under school age. It can be organised in nurseries, family day care or clubs. Early childhood education consists of education, teaching and care, and it is based on agreed targets and contents. Teachers, social workers and nursery workers with special training work in early childhood education. The guardians decide whether their child takes part.

Emergency placement (Kiireellinen sijoitus)

Emergency placement is when a child who is in immediate danger is taken away from their home. For example, an emergency placement may be required if circumstances at home or a lack of proper childcare poses an immediate danger to a child’s health or development, or when a child’s guardians are temporarily unable to look after the child and this poses an immediate danger to their health or development. An emergency placement can last for a maximum of 30 days. In certain cases, it may be extended by a maximum of 30 days.

Emergency social services (Sosiaalipäivystys)

Emergency social services attends to the urgent need for help at all hours and weekdays. Contact information for the emergency social services can be found in the telephone directory, on the municipal website, by calling the emergency number 112, the hospitals or police.

Emergency Youth Shelter (Nuorten turvatalo)

Emergency Youth Shelters help young people and their families settle difficult life situations.

Family carer (Perhehoitaja)

A family carer is a person who provides family care in their own home for a child who has been taken into care, for example.

Family centre (Perhekeskus)

Family centres provide support and services for families. They offer a range of services for children, young people and families, including social and health services for families with children, educational services and activities organised by NGOs, parishes and other religious communities. Family centre staff work together to make it easy for families to find the help they need. Family centres also provide meeting places for families as part of their operations. Families can make friends and get advice on where to access more help if needed.

Family counselling office/child and family counselling services (Perheneuvola/kasvatus- tai perheneuvonta)

Child and family counselling services support the development of children and young people, parenting and the relationship between parents. Families are offered expert help for problems concerning children or the family. Problems may be related to a child’s development or behaviour, conflicts between parents or difficult life situations. Child and family counselling services are usually available at the municipal family counselling offices, sometimes in conjunction with other social services, and are sometimes provided by municipalities working together.

Family Group Conference (Läheisneuvonpito)

A family group conference is a working method that aims to solve problems together with people who are close to and important for the child and the family. In a family group conference, the relevant people and authorities concerning the child’s affairs meet and discuss together.

Family law services (Perheoikeudelliset palvelut)

Municipal family law services offer support when parents are divorcing. The services help families to draft agreements and reports related to issues such as paternity, child custody and child support. They also help to resolve disputes relating to child custody or visitation rights. Family mediation and child supervisors are examples of family law services.

Family mediation (Perheasioiden sovittelu)

The family mediation service can be contacted when parents are considering divorce or have already divorced. The service helps spouses to find solutions to conflicts through mediation. Special attention is paid to the circumstances of children. Mediation efforts seek to find a solution that allows children to maintain a good relationship with both parents after a divorce.

Family work (Perhetyö)

Family work is an activity, which supports families in their everyday life and helps them cope with different life situations. The content and form of family work activities vary in municipalities.

Family worker (Perhetyöntekijä)

A family worker works in families with children and helps parents with nursing, nurturing and raising the children, as well as with domestic chores.

Foster care (Perhehoito)

Foster care means that the care, raising and nurturing of a child placed in care is arranged outside of the child’s home in a private home of a foster family or in professional foster care.

Foster family (Sijaisperhe)

A foster family is a family providing family care, in which a child has been placed in care owing to child welfare -related reasons. A foster family provides a safe environment for the child to live and grow up. The parents of foster families are given training and must be approved. A child placed in a foster family is allowed to meet his or her own parents. Foster parents are also called family carers.

Foster parents (Sijaisvanhemmat)

The parents of a foster family are called foster parents. Foster parents are also known as family carers.

Guardian (Huoltaja)

A child’s parents are usually their guardians. It may be that just one parent is a guardian, which is referred to as sole custody. Someone other than a parent can also be appointed as a guardian if necessary. A guardian takes care of a child and makes decisions that concern them. The guardian must safeguard the child’s well-being and balanced development.

Institutional care – also residential care (Laitoshoito)

Institutional care means that the care, raising and nurturing of a child placed in care is arranged outside of his or her home in a child welfare institution.

Investigating the need for child welfare services (Lastensuojelutarpeen selvitys)

Investigating the need for child welfare services means an assessment, carried out by a social worker, of the circumstances in which the child is being raised and of the parent’s ability to care for and raise a child. If the assessment establishes any need for child welfare services, the family becomes a client of child welfare services.

Involuntary taking into care (Tahdonvastainen huostaanotto)

Involuntary taking into care means a situation, in which children of 12 years of age or more or guardians oppose taking into care. Then the court must rule on the matter. The social worker responsible for the child’s affairs must prepare an application to the Administrative Court, in which the child’s taking into care is proposed. The Administrative Court will learn about the matter and rule on the best solution in accordance with the best interests of the child.
The purpose of legal remedies is to protect clients. If a client feels that they have been mistreated by social welfare services or in a child welfare case, they can take the matter forward. Their purpose is to protect the rights of clients of social services and child welfare services and to ensure that these rights are implemented. Authorities have a duty to offer advice, and clients have the right to make their views known to the authorities. There are certain procedures in place for doing this.

Maternity and child health clinic (Äitiys- ja lastenneuvola)

The maternity and child health clinic is a service that provides help in a child’s health care free of charge in Finland. The mother visits the maternity clinic during pregnancy. A maternity clinic monitors the wellbeing of the mother and the future baby. A child health care clinic monitors the growth and development of children under school age. For example, a child receives the necessary vaccinations at a child health clinic.

Open care placement (Avohuollon sijoitus)

A child can be temporarily placed outside the home, either on their own or with their guardians, as a support measure. Placement is voluntary, and it is discussed with the guardians and child. The Child Welfare Act assumes that children are primarily placed in care with their guardians. When an entire family is placed in care, it may stay in an institution or with a family. A placement may be necessary to calmly assess a child and family’s need for support or rehabilitation. A temporary placement may also be required if a child needs to be cared for temporarily, for example due to a parent falling ill or a mother giving birth.

Peer support activities (Vertaistukitoiminta)

Peer support activities refer to activities through which people can share experiences with others who have experienced the same things as them or are in a similar situation in life. Participants listen to each other’s experiences and share their own. No one is there to teach or offer professional solutions, but people can learn to understand their own experiences by listening to those of others.

Placement (Sijoitus)

Placement means that a child is placed in alternative care, in other words that a child’s care and raising is arranged away from the child’s home.

Placement as a support measure in open care (Sijoitus avohuollon tukitoimena)

Placement as a support measure in open care means a situation in which a child or the entire family is placed away from their home on a short-term basis. Open care placement is always voluntary.

Pre-primary education (Esiopetus)

Pre-primary education is intended for all children under school age the year prior to beginning of compulsory education. Children are usually enrolled to preschool education in the year when they turn six. They learn through playing and activities with other children and are thus better prepared for school. All children must attend pre-primary education, which is free. Parents must ensure that their children attend pre-primary education or other activities that reach the objectives set for pre-primary education. In Finland, pre-primary education is offered at day-care centres and schools.

Preventive child welfare (Ehkäisevä lastensuojelu)

Preventive child welfare means such measures and services provided by different parties to secure children’s growth, development and wellbeing and to support parenting. Special support given by a municipality or other operators in the area is preventive child welfare when a child or family is not a child welfare client. Preventive child welfare is carried out, for example, by maternity and children’s clinics and other health care, day care, education and adolescent work.

Professional foster home (Ammatillinen perhekoti)

A professional foster home is a form of family care and refers to a home that is authorised to operate as a foster home as provided in law.

Request to evaluate the need for child welfare services (Pyyntö lastensuojelutarpeen arvioimiseksi)

A family or child can also seek help together with a school or day care centre worker, for example. If help is sought together with such a worker, a request is made to evaluate the need for child welfare instead of a notification.

Restrictive measures (Rajoitustoimenpiteet)

Restrictive measures applied in alternative care include restrictions on contact, bodily search and physical examination and restraining a child physically. The law determines all restrictive measures and detailed preconditions for their application. Restrictive measures may only be applied in institutions except for restriction of contact, which can also be applied in family care. 

School psychologist (Koulupsykologi)

School psychologists assist children in matters related to their growth, development and learning. They assess whether a child has learning difficulties and find help. Pupils can also talk to a school psychologist if they have any concerns about their mental health.

School social worker (Koulukuraattori)

A school social worker is one who works at school, who provides help and support for pupils and their families. For example, a school social worker can help when a pupil has problems with school attendance or friendships or if changes occur in his or her life. The parents can discuss with the school social worker about the situation at home or matters concerning raising the child.

Shelter or shelter home (Turvakoti)

Shelters help victims of domestic violence or those experiencing a threat of domestic violence. One can go to a shelter alone or with children at any hour. There are shelters in larger municipalities, but one can seek into a shelter from elsewhere as well.

Social office or social services (Sosiaalitoimisto tai sosiaalitoimi)

Each municipality has a social office or social services providing various services and benefits for the municipality residents. The social office or social services are responsible for child welfare services.

Social worker responsible for the child’s affairs (Lapsen asioista vastaava sosiaalityöntekijä)

The social worker responsible for the child’s affairs is a social worker designated for each client of child welfare services. His or her responsibility is to guarantee that the child receives the necessary support and services. The social worker responsible for the child’s affairs is obliged to ensure that the child’s best interest is served.

Special needs education (Erityisopetus)

Special needs education is intended for pupils who need special support at school. The reasons may be varied, for example, learning difficulties, illness, or development delays. Special needs education can be provided as individual instruction or in a small group.

Special needs education/teacher (Erityisopetus/erityisopettaja)

Special needs education is intended for pupils who need special support at school. The reasons for special needs education can be varied, for example learning difficulties, illness or development delays. Special needs education can be provided in mainstream or special classes at local schools. A special education teacher is a teacher who has the qualifications and skills to teach pupils who need support.

Statement from the social board (Olosuhdeselvitys)

A court may request a statement from the social board to obtain information about a family’s circumstances when resolving a custody dispute. The request can only be granted if a court considers it necessary for all the information to be accessible for a matter to be resolved. A statement from the social board covers issues such as the views of the child and parents, as well as any issues affecting the parents’ ability to act as the child’s guardians.

Student welfare services (Oppilashuolto)

Student welfare services support children’s learning efforts as well as their physical and mental health at school. This can be support offered to an individual child or to promote the well-being of an entire school/class by preventing bullying, for example. Student welfare services are provided by school social workers, school psychologists and school nurses and doctors. Various providers of student welfare services work with each other and with other bodies that offer services to children and young people. If a child needs support from student welfare services, a meeting is held with the child and the guardian to explore the best ways to help. Contacting the student welfare services is voluntary and requires the child’s, and in some cases the guardian’s, consent.

Support measures in open care (Avohuollon tukitoimet)

Support measures in open care are services provided for a family to help and support children and parents in their own living environment. Support measures in open care are voluntary and based on co-operation with the family. Support measures are always planned individually so that they correspond to the child and family’s needs. Support measures can be organised exclusively for the child or the parents or for the whole family. The need for support measures is recorded in a client plan. An authority issues a decision granting support measures, which the family can appeal.

Taking a child into care (Huostaanotto)

Taking a child into care means that the responsibility for raising and caring for a child is transferred to the authorities. According to law, a child must be taken into care if his or her health and development is at serious risk. The risk is being defined by the circumstances in which the child is being raised or by the child’s own behavior. However, taking into care can be resorted to only if it is the best interests of the child and support measures in open care have proven inadequate.

The best interests of the child (Lapsen etu)

When evaluating the need for child welfare services and implementing child welfare measures, the best interests of the child must primarily be taken into account, i.e. seeking the best solution for the child.