The exchange week can be described as a pressure-cooker in which participants collect and consume information, energy, understanding, inspiration and network together. In addition to the substantive knowlegde, the exchange has proven to be useful because of the high degree of reflection on your own methodologies and choices made in your country or organisation.
The purpose of the exchange between Finland and the Netherlands was to compare the system we have set up in the Netherlands to the Finnish system. Interestingly, the Finns are preparing a system of centralization. According to the present information, the health, social services and regional government reform should enter into force on 1 January 2020. In the Netherlands, we just decentralized the responsibility for the organization of the system to the municipalities.
Food for thought during and after the exchange …
The role and responsibility of the Social Worker
In the first few days, it became clear that the role and responsibility of the Social Worker is many times bigger than the role of those in the Netherlands. The Social Worker in Finland is both caregiver and decisionmaker.
For example, the social services may intervene without the intervention of the court in the family and a child, e.g. out-home placements if the parties concerned agree with proposed decision. The aim is to cooperate with a family and a child as much as possible and to make decisions on the voluntary basis. In the involuntary cases, supervision can be organized through administrative court. However, this is a time-consuming process, which may discourage such a step. Social workers are in powerful position as public authorities and therefore the qualified Social Worker in Finland must have an university degree (MA level). Generally speaking, the Finns accept from their culture such interventions of public authorities.
Looking at the Dutch situation, you could say that the Social Worker could get the same position through SKJ certification and the related disciplinary law. In practice, however, we see that the responsibility/independency that the Social Worker receives within the system is limited. The question is how this could be changed in the Netherlands?
When in Finland children are taken into care and placed in care (either foster families or residential care), the social worker (regardless of whether a child ever returns) is responsible for planning support to the parents accordingly and to draw up a separate client plan offering parenting support for the parents of a child taken into care. Foster parents and residential care workers cooperate with parents. The goal is that parents also learn to deal with the situation and the aim is to reunify the family if possible.
In the Netherlands, this is not automatically the case.
In Finland, there is no “juvenile prison system” or a separate juvenile court system. Juvenile offenders are dealt with by the Criminal Justice System and the Child Welfare System. The result of this is that there have been only approximately 8 youth in Finland in prison in recent years. But there are, like the Netherlands, youth detentions in Finland. (See e.g. report by Tapio Lappi-Seppälä: http://www.oijj.org/sites/default/files/baaf_finland1.pdf)
Funding of the system
The Finnish system has been financed by the municipalities and the state subsidies. Generated taxes have been used to fund the system. An interesting difference with the Netherlands is that the health care is also a responsibility of the individual municipalities. The new Finnish system is sending new political entities (counties). These look similar to our provinces. These 18 counties will be responsible for the total social and health domain with the central government funding. The intention is to enter this system by 2020.
One of the reasons for the system reform is the big differences between the different municipalities. The access to services varies in different parts of the country. One municipality has a complete package of care, while the other might have to buy it e.g. from a larger municipality.
A big difference with the reform of the system, compared to the Netherlands, is that the aim is to curb the increase of costs instead of sudden cutback of funding. However, the funding plays an important role in the Finnish reform too: the aim is to reduce the costs by 3 billion by the end of 2029. Another difference is that in Finland they take much more time for the reform.
The child welfare services are produced by public funding. There are, however, private service providers who aim to generate profit. The discussion on Friday afternoon showed that research has shown that the effectiveness of care provided by institutions that make profit is no less than that of taxfunded institutions.
Another big difference is that in Finland the Social Impact Bonds (SIB) model has just recently been introduced. It is a new way to finance the delivery of public services. SIB is a contract with public sector in which a commitment is made to pay for (only for) improved social outcomes and measurable public sector savings. It involves three parties (commissioner, service provider and investor). (See more about SIB in Finland: https://www.sitra.fi/en/projects/sib-funds/#latest) The way in which private money could be deployed in our Dutch system is an interesting question that you could see as a return of exchange.
Normal life as a starting point for support
Like in the Netherlands, the focus of the Finns (policy) is on prevention. And, like in the Netherlands, they do not seem to really succeed in it. Perhaps it would be interesting to continue exploring this theme together.
Training Social Work – youth care worker
The social workers in Finland have a university degree. University education includes many practical periods. However, when they complete their study, the real experience starts when they actually start to work. Looking at the developments within FICE International in Scotland and Australia combined with our needs for quality this could be interesting to explore more intensively.