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Outcomes and life courses of children taken into care


In 2011, in Finland 10.535 children were taken in society's custody of the total of 17.409 children that were placed outside home, and 81.500 children with their families were clients in community care. These figures have been increasing at least 15 years. It has been criticized that there is not enough knowledge about different working methods in use and about outcomes in clients' lives (e.g. STM 2012, 17). It has also been criticized that it is difficult to find factors in statistical material, which have altered the direction of the life course. Evidence-based practice along with increasing research on the outcomes of working methods in child-protection have been requested.

Aim. The objectives of my dissertation are to analyse and explain:

1. What are the life-courses of the children taken into society's custody like:

  • trajectories, transitions, turning points;
  • risks, protecting factors;

2. What kind of outcomes are attained by child-protection measures with used resources:

  • well-being (including education, employment, social relations, subsistence) and deficits in well-being.

3. What factors seem to affect success.

4. What are the connections between life-course and outcomes.

Method. The subjects are 246 children (127 boys, 119 girls) taken into care between 1990-1998 in a Finnish town. This is the period in 1990's before the system of equalizing great expenses in child protection. This period covers also the recession of the 1990's in Finland from the beginning till the end. The life courses of the subjects were followed using social-work documents covering the time before placement, the process of being taken into care, time during placements, after-care and (finally) living in their own homes. They are at the moment in foster care, in after-care or live their own, independent life in their own homes.

For the outcomes, Evaluation of Public Services theory (Pusa & Piirainen & Kettunen 2004) is used as a basis (Fig. 2 below). It has been developed from the foundation of Martin Knapp's (1995, 16) Production of Welfare approach (Fig. 1). Outcomes will be evaluated from social work documents by comparing the situation at the beginning of placement to the end of placement, to the end of after-care, and to the end of 2010.

The situation of both the child and their birth parents will be examined: their progress in terms of health, education, employment, social relations, social assistance or community care. Long term effects will be examined against well-being. Special interest will be laid to the problems continuing from generation to generation, child welfare processes, life courses and outcomes. The methods will be mostly quantitative.

Life courses will be studied both quantitatively and qualitatively. Different pathways will be as the basis of examinations: e.g. pathways of community care and placements. From pathways trajectories, transitions and turning points will be studied, also trying to identify risks and protecting factors from the child's point of view. Possible period effects will also be studied. Finally, the life courses are compared with the outcomes.

Preliminary results. At the moment the data has been collected, SPSS-matrix is finished and checked. The literature review is being performed. So far there are some preliminary results available, and these mostly concern with the life courses at the time the children were taken into care.

When analyzing the data and examining the life courses of the children, I found that a pathway, that might seem reasonably simple from the organizational or institutional point of view, is not as simple when you look at it from the child's perspective. There are examples, where a child has had three emergency placements and two regular placements, all according to the law, good practice and social work instructions. From the child's perspective, they have had to shuttle between home and placements for nine times. And that is during the process of decision making about the placement (emergency placement vs. regular placement vs. no placement at all) alone. Possible changes between different stations during the placement periods are not included here.

There is not yet much comprehensive research available on the outcomes of children taken into care in Finland. According to Heino (2009, 209) about every third of those taken into care succeed in life, one third have a volatile success and one third do not succeed in life in the long run. There have been suggested to be three basic explanations for that: 1) interventions are relational, 2) timing and length of interventions and 3) interventions are done in severe, multifaceted situations with complex problems, which means that they should be focused on several directions at the same time.

According to research results, better outcomes depend on several factors: a child is placed in a foster family instead of an institution, there is stability in the placement, gender (girls get better education), age (placed as young, 0-12 years old), preventive actions in child welfare and after care, the extent of difficult experiences that burden the birth family, parents' socio-economic status (education and occupation), the extent of economic difficulties during childhood and unfavourable developing background (Heino & Johnson 2010, 266-293; Kajanoja 2005, Koskenvuo 2010, 294-318, Koponen 2006).

Typically, the education of those placed outside home stays lower than the average. In my data 85% went through only basic school vs. more than 50% in Kestilä et al. (2012, 600) results. Similar results have been reported in international literature in Nordic countries, Great Britain, France, USA and Canada. Most subjects in my data were categorized as workers (almost 50%) and 14% were unemployed (vs. almost 25% unemployed in Kestilä et al. 2012 results). Kestilä et al. (2012) results were based on nationwide registers. My results consider those, whose documents included required information (25%-33% of all subjects), that is those, who were clients in social services also after the after-care period and whose documents were available. The explanations to these preliminary results remain to be explored as my analysis of the data continues.

Key references

Heino, T. (2009). 198214. Lastensuojelu - kehityskulkuja ja paikannuksia in Lammi-Taskula, Johanna & Karvonen, Sakari & Ahlström, Salme (eds.) 2009: Lapsiperheiden hyvinvointi. Helsinki: The Institution for Health and Welfare (THL Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos).

Heino, T. and Johnson, M. (2010). Huostassa olleet lapset nuorina aikuisina in Hämäläinen, Ulla & Kangas, Olli (ed.). Perhepiirissä. Helsinki: Kela.

Kestilä, L., Väisänen, A., Paananen, R., Heino, T. and Gissler, M. (2012). Kodin ulkopuolelle sijoitetut nuorina aikuisina. Rekisteripohjainen seurantatutkimus Suomessa vuonna 1987 syntyneistä. Yhteiskuntapolitiikka, 77, 6.

Kajanoja, J. (2005). Good childhood - a key to flourishing national economy? (Hyvä lapsuus - avain menestyvään kansantalouteen?) in P. Takala (ed.) Do we have patience to invest in children? (Onko meillä malttia sijoittaa lapsiin?) Helsinki: The Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), 234-244.

Koponen, (2006). Growth milieu and development of children exposed to drugs during embryonic period (Sikiöaikana päihteille altistuneiden lasten kasvuym-päristö ja kehitys). Helsinki: The Finnish Association on Intellectual and Develo-pmental Disabilities FAIDD (Kehitysvammaliitto), Kotu-research 5.

Koskenvuo, K. (2010). Lapsuudentapahtumat, terveys ja elämäntyytyväisyys. In U. Hämäläinen & O. Kangas (ed.) Perhepiirissä. Helsinki: Kela, 294-318.

Knapp, M. (ed.) (1995). The Economic Evaluation of Mental Health Care. UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland (STM Sosiaali-ja terveysministeriö) (2012). 17. Functional Child Welfare (Toimiva lastensuojelu. Selvitys kuntien perhetyön, lastensuojelun toimintatapojen sekä lastensuojelulain toimivuu-den kehittämisestä.). Report (Väliraportti). Sosiaali-ja terveysministeriön raportteja ja muistioita 2012:28.

Pusa, O. & Piirainen, K. & Kettunen, A. (2004). Introduction to socio-economics and economics of social services (Johdatus sosiaalitaloustieteeseen ja sosiaalipalve-lujen talouteen). Handout at the course of socio-economics. Pieksämäki: Deacony Polytechnic, Research centre of socio-economics.

Vaarama, M. (1995). Efficiency of the care services of the elderly from production-of-welfare viewpoint (Vanhusten hoivapalvelujen tuloksellisuus hyvinvoinnin tuo-tanto -näkökulmasta). Stakes (Research center for social and health care) re-searches 55. Helsinki: Stakes.

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