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Dealing With Child Offenders in Finland - The Scandinavian Child Welfare System in Operation

NCJ Number
M Joutsen
Date Published
130 pages
The background and operation of the Scandinavian child welfare system in general and of Finland's in particular are discussed as part of an examination of these countries' responses to child offenders. The incidence and character of juvenile crime in Finland are also investigated.
The Scandinavian countries deal with child offenders through child welfare systems, which consist of local administrative councils with predominantly lay members. In Sweden and Finland, the age of criminal responsibility is 15. Children between 15 and 17 fall into a double-track system with both the juvenile court and the child welfare system having jurisdiction. The Child Welfare Act of 1936 and the Young Offenders Act of 1940 are the bases of the present Finnish justice system for children. Preventive measures prescribed by the Child Welfare Act include warnings to the parent and child, protective supervision, and transfer of guardianship, as well as economic support and supervised leisure-time activities. However, the act is considered outmoded, and most urban child welfare systems actually use alternative responses: counseling, open care or long-term contact between the child's family and the welfare board, and assignment of a lay contact person to spend time with the child. The child welfare system has come under attack for ineffectiveness, absence of procedural safeguards, and lack of expertise of the child welfare workers. Proposed revisions to the Child Welfare Act would establish family counseling as a replacement for temporary guardianship, make more use of placement in a foster family, and call for total treatment plans. Proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act would remove differences in the court processing of offenders under age 18 and adults (with the exception of reserving prison sentences for the most severe cases involving youth.) The incidence of child offenses in Finland is investigated, using statistics, research reports, and new research data to uncover unreported crimes, with a focus on a study of the 1978 delinquent-children workload in the Helsinki Child Welfare Office. Study data and a list of over 60 references are appended.