In Finland a Familiar Story: Child Welfare Agencies Choose Foster Care over Father Care

In case anyone thought that fathers have it better somewhere else, consider this article out of Finland (Helsingin Sanomat, 4/30/10). It seems that in that country, fathers are battling child welfare agencies to get custody of their children. They’re having to battle because – surprise, surprise – the child welfare agencies prefer foster care to father care. (Where have I seen that phrase before? Oh that’s right, I’ve written it myself countless times.)

Veli-Matti Korhonen is not the only one to be in such a predicament. Helsingin Sanomat has examined the situations of two other fathers.

Although they live in different parts of the country, they share the experience that officials often only listen to the mother. Fathers are ignored. In spite of a joint custody agreement, the children are placed outside the home.

Sound familiar? It should. In this country, studies show that child protective agencies routinely ignore fathers as a placement alternative when children are taken from mothers. Indeed, the Urban Institute has shown that that happens in well over half the cases even though the father is known in 88%. The discrimination aganist fathers by CPS agencies has grown so bad and so pervasive that lawsuits against them are cropping up. One California case found the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the lower court decision that a father could sue the child welfare organization under federal civil rights statutes because it had failed to give him the opportunity at custody.

Apparently dads in Finland have no such recourse. Their situation is actually worse than here.

Many fathers around Finland are fighting to keep children who are in foster care, even though they have joint custody agreements with the mothers.

These kinds of situations arise in divorce cases in which the a joint custody arrangement exists, but the mother suddenly decides that she does not want to let the father keep the children when she is rendered unable to do so.

Such conflicts can last for years. The children in such cases suffer the most, even though everyone involved is ostensibly acting in their best interest. Municipal costs for child protective services have quadrupled in the past decade.

So, even as we’ve seen so often in the U.S., child welfare agencies bypass dads in favor of foster care. That’s at no small cost to the children, to the fathers and to the taxpayers, but they do it anyway.

And it looks like it’s all up to the mother. That too looks familiar. The situations in which fathers’ rights are placed firmly in the hands of mothers are many, and foster care is one of them. For a mother, the words “I don’t know who the father is” go a long way toward deciding whether he gets to see his child or not.

But if the article is accurate, in Finland, if “the mother suddenly decides that she does not want to let the father keep the children” then it’s off to foster care for them and off to court for him. Somehow, someone must think some portion of that makes sense, but I can’t imagine who or how. Fathers should have enforceable (by fathers) rights to children; children should have enforceable rights to fathers. Public policy and law that recognize those two things would save tax money. The only “downside” is that mothers would have to cease to be the sole arbiters of children’s and fathers’ rights.

“The law requires that the parents should be treated even-handedly, but in practice, mothers get support, and fathers are left on their own’, says one father. “A father who cares for his children is in a weak position.”

The sense of agony is also something that the men share. “This is hell on earth. A weaker person would have given up already.”

Again, as we’ve seen before, the law may be gender neutral, but if judges and agency personnel want it to be pro-mother, it is. That’s why lawsuits can be so effective at accomplishing what laws alone do not. Experience teaches that, while CPS agencies may be staffed by people with an anti-dad mindset, juries seldom are. Dads should quit going hat in hand to agencies that have proven time and again to disdain them.

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