In the 2019 Happiness Report, Finland was ranked, for the second consecutive year, the happiest country in the world. Nevertheless, there are at least two categories of citizens who may disagree: divorced foreign nationals and children in the Finnish foster care system.This is the story of a divorced Romanian mother from Finland and her children. It is hardly credible unless you understand the philosophy of current social care, the money involved and the context.
VIDEO with English subtitles broadcast by the Romanian public television (TVR)
A multicultural love
story ending in violence
In 2005, when she married a Finnish citizen and moved from
Romania to Finland with her daughter from a previous marriage (Andreea, then
aged 4), Camelia Smicală, a medical doctor, had no idea it would be the
beginning of a terrible ordeal.
The psychological abuse from the husband, named Petri Jalaskoski, started just before she fell pregnant with Johan-Mihail, their first child. The next child, Maria, a girl, was conceived in rape but, despite the serious medical problems she had after Mihail’s birth, Camelia refused to abort her. In February 2007, the husband hit Camelia’s pregnant belly and tried to strangle her.
This pattern of behavior continued and children were severely injured over the course of time. Once Camelia had to seek refuge in a shelter for victims of domestic violence, but the police did nothing to protect her and the children. She did not even receive a translator. So she had to return to her husband in the end.
In April 2010, Camelia Smicală finally divorced and moved out with her three children. She had learned the language, found a job and was able to care for her children.
Yet, her jobless and violent husband managed to obtain shared custody and the children were forced to visit him.
In the end, the social worker was scared to see how the father treated the children and recommended stopping meetings.
Finland is EU’s second most violent country against women
It is hardly credible that authorities from a developed country should do nothing to help women victims of domestic violence. But Camelia Smicală is not the only case. Sirpa Itti, a Finnish woman, explained her ordeal for the Romanian public television, TVR 1 (video above – ed. note).
After the divorce from her violent husband, Finnish authorities gave the custody of their child, a boy, to the violent father. „In Finland, if you are a woman, you have no right. Even if the child had injuries caused by his father, the court refused to listen to him”. She reported her case to CEDAW, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which confirmed, in March 2018, a grave violation of her rights. But the CEDAW recommendations were not taken into consideration. Sirpa Itti’s final conclusion is that “unfortunately, in Finland, men, and especially violent ones, are protected”.
At the end of year 2016, the UN Committee against Torture “repeated its concern… about violence against women” in Finland. The next report is due in 2020.
„Even if they have appointed a woman as prime minister and even if they have formally changed their laws, there is no authority in Finland that protects women and children from violence”, says Camelia Smicală.
In fact, the problem of domestic violence seems to be widespread in Finland and not addressed properly. Recent Eurostat data from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights show that Nordic Countries have the highest rate of violence against women and Finland is second in this shameful top: 47% of Finnish women have been physically or sexually abused by a husband or partner in their lifetime. Denmark is first in this top (52%) and Sweden comes third (46%).
Child abduction as „social
After Camelia Smicală’ ex-husband was
stripped of visitation rights, a new stage of the children‘s ordeal started:
they were taken away from the mother and put into separate foster homes.
The executors came to take the children in May 2015. They did not identify themselves and did not show the administrative decision they were enforcing. Camelia thought they were street thugs coming to rob them.
The video of their coming into the house is disturbing. The children fought and their mother took them in her arms. The executors forcefully separated them, the mother getting three cracked ribs in the process.
“I was so afraid. It was the execution of a punishment, not social service. One cannot see it on the video, but the stairs were full of blood. Andreea, my eldest daughter, was full of blood”, Camelia Smicală says. “All this while Finnish law does not even allow executors to touch you. If you hit them, they have to call the police and only the police has the right to constrain you”, she further explains.
„Had I not been there, had I not witnessed the case, I would not have believed it either. The children were taken from their home in total disregard of the Finnish law. They were not in danger with their mother. On the contrary. What’s worse is that the children were taken forcefully. The two social workers who came with the police had the obligation to mediate the situation, but they did not. Moreover, the law says that in case of a crisis situation, as it happened there, the children must not be taken the respective day. The authorities are obliged to let them calm down and take them only a few days after. Unfortunately, it did not happen that way”.
Finland: Child protection decisions are not given in a court of law
There was no proper trial before the
decision to take the children from their home and put them into social care.
The mother was not heard or even notified about it.
Lokakuun Liike (“October Movement”) is a human rights organization aiming to raise public awareness and discussion about human rights and their violations in family politics, foster and mental care and other forms of institutional care. The organization confirms that “the trials are not held in objective District courts but in Administrative courts, where incompetent and inexperienced judges, often ex- social workers accept (acceptance rate over 95%) almost all applications of social workers without hearing the families or investigation or demanding proof of the accusations”.
Camelia Smicală explains:
“While a judge in a court of justice has granted common custody and ruled that the children shall stay with me, the administrative decision was that the children be put in social care [centers]. Certainly a decision by the court of justice is much more important than a decision by an administrative court, because the former hears parties and witnesses, while the latter only looks at papers. But they enforce only what is convenient to them”.
The administrative decision for the Smicală children was based on the possibility
that the Romanian mother could move forever to her country of origin with the
children, Johan-Mihail and Maria-Alexandra.
How the Hague Convention makes foreign nationals and their kids prisoners
The two children are also Romanian citizens with their official residence in the Romanian city of Piatra Neamț. So, moving with them to Romania would only be natural, especially since they have the extended family there: their grandparents. But Finland has signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, designed to protect children from being unlawfully taken abroad.
Unfortunately, Finland abusively uses the Hague Convention against immigrant parents who have divorced Finnish spouses and want to relocate to their country of origin with the child for which they already have custody.
In an online survey by a Finnish newspaper, respondents wondered why Finnish courts and social workers discriminated against parents of non-Finnish origin:
“I have had joint custody of our child, now 14, since the divorce in 2010. My child has lived with me since birth. The court essentially ruled that I would be ‘robbing the child of Finnish culture and heritage’ if they allowed us to leave Finland. I had the opportunity to return to the States to work at a prestigious university. I stay because to go would mean leaving my child here. We both feel like hostages. The courts discriminate against foreigners and fail to ascertain the true ‘best interests of the child’”.
The theory that silences children and sometimes even kills them
Finnish law clearly states that children must be heard and their wish and testimony are important in the decisions regarding their care. It is only natural for the child to wish to stay with the parent who offers real care, comfort and security.
Yet, more and more often, local authorities in Finland, just as judiciary authorities from other developed countries such as Australia, have started taking child care decisions without hearing the children.
The argument is that children are unreliable witnesses, being excessively influenced by one of the parents in order to alienate them from the other parent. It’s called “the theory of parental alienation”, which basically argues that the child has been psychologically manipulated and does not know his or her own good. The theory implies that children who do not want to visit a parent after separation are actually influenced by the other parent. This endangers children who are forced to visit abusive fathers.
Based on this theory, Camelia Smicală’s ex-husband was first granted shared custody of the children. But his visitations rights were suspended after the social worker got scared seeing how he abused the children. Johan-Mihail and Maria-Alexandra were lucky that they were not forced to visit him anymore.
There was a case in which the child was not so lucky. In 2013, Vilja-Eerika, an eight year-old girl, was forced by the social services to visit her violent father, despite her mother’s complaints and notifications from her school about signs of violence. The Social Protection authorities had ignored 11 warnings and persisted in their evaluation that the mother had unjustly ‘alienated’ the child from the father. And one day the girl was beaten to death by her father and his new girlfriend.
protection as for-profit business
The number of child protection notifications to Finnish authorities has grown by 15 percent from 2016 to 2017, with children aged 13-17 comprising the largest group, announced Finland’s National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL). Maybe it was because of legislation introduced in 2015, which requires anyone working with children to file a report of suspected child abuse to welfare officials and the police. “While a significant share of reports are false alarms, officials say it is better to investigate all suspected cases than to miss incidents of actual abuse”, informed the media in 2016.
Is this in the best interest of the child? A survey made by the English-language online channel of the Finnish public broadcasting company presents the parents’ frustrations and “hopelessness against the might of the child welfare machine” in this country. A British citizen told the media channel that the child protection targeted his family over anonymous reports that his children were being physically abused. ”The children were interviewed …And those interviews confirmed that the allegations were false”. This did not stop the child protection from battling the family in court for three years in order to get the custody of the children.
“It would seem that there are
two standards”, said another father whose children were taken and put into
foster care. “The foster families and the private for-profit entities who
contract with the government cannot possibly be guilty of any wrong”, he said in
the survey. In the meantime, he adds, “the slightest real or imaginary fault by
the real parents justifies the indefinite incarceration of the child”.
Why is it so? For the money. Finland, a country with a population of 5.4 million, has 89 „child protection” state institutions, 615 private contractors for services affiliated to child protection and 4,290 foster families paid with public money. A collaborative working group made of Finland’s six biggest cities compiles a yearly report on financing public child care: the six municipalities yearly allocate a total sum of around 330 million euros, of which over 120 million by Helsinki and over 36 million by Tampere, the municipality which decided to take Camelia Smicală’s children away from their loving mother.
Finland has very high rates of children placed into foster care and a many ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) verdicts of human rights violations in child welfare services, writes Lokakuun Liike (“October Movement”) on their website. They also mention there is no proper surveillance or governmental control in Finland over social care practices.
The same organization says 90,000 Finnish children and juveniles are beneficiaries of a certain form of social care – in the big cities, one child in ten. And one child in 20 will experience a placement. A child taken into care goes to live with a foster family or in a children center where his linguistic, cultural or religious background is seldom taken into account, informs Lokakuun Liike. “The cost of the placements alone is around one billion euros. The daily cost for one child can be over 600 euros. A foster family can receive for one child up to 30,000 €, and a third of this tax-free. In addition to this, they also receive financial support and benefits”, says Lokakuun Liike. In 2014 the average cost per child was calculated by Yle.fi at 51,174 euros.
A fifth of the children from social care have been taken against their will or against their parents’ consent. “Reunion of these families is very rare in Finland, and the placements are by nature permanent”, Lokakuun Liike organization says, adding that this is against international Human Rights Conventions.
UN committees have expressed their concern over child protection in Finland
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Human Rights Committee have expressed concern over the high number of children placed in care. In 2011, its fourth periodic report on Finland’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically raised the issue of children placed in social care, says Yle.fi:
“…the Committee is concerned that, in practice, the number of children placed in institutions, including successive placements, is increasing, that the number of foster family care placements is insufficient and that there is no unified nationwide standards establishing criteria for placements in alternative care, care planning and regular review of placement decisions, and that there is insufficient supervision and monitoring of alternative care facilities.”
Foster homes, or foster prisons?
EU child care standards require that the children be cared either in their natural family (by offering social support to the family) or into foster families. Romania is in the process of eliminating all its big foster homes and is putting children into foster families, in order to be in accordance with EU standard practice.
But Finland, a country with a small population, sees itself unable or unwilling to do so. There are many large children centers in Finland, where children do not enjoy the nurturing environment which only a real family can provide.
It has been almost five years since Maria Smicală, then 8, now 13 years old, and Mihail Smicală, then 9, now 14 years old, were taken from their mother and separated from each other despite all standards in children care. They were taken into two separate foster homes in a remote region. The mother did not get visitation rights until two years later, when a member of the Romanian government visited Finland especially for their case.
Thus, in the second half of 2017, Camelia could see her children for the first time since they were taken. She found Maria infested with lice and Mihai complaining he was bullied at school for being „an orphan”. Also, the children were frequently isolated and could not use their phones or talk to other children. It sounds incredible that this could happen in a 21st-century EU country famous for its education system.
Untrained social workers, violations of law and rights
In a documentary broadcast on the Finnish public television, 21-year-old Miro Määttänen, who lived for six years in five different foster homes across Finland and became a drug addict before leaving the system, declared: “I get the feeling that people don’t believe us. They just convince themselves it is just another troubled youth talking rubbish”.
The Finnish Police is currently investigating employees of the Loikalan Kartano foster home in the South of Finland, where teenagers in social care were allegedly stripped naked, isolated and forced to eat in silence. In 2018, another police investigation was started in the Northern part of Finland, at a foster home which many of its young beneficiaries described as „a prison”. The employees were suspect of assault, breach of official duty and deprivation of liberty. At the time, the Ombudsman for Children said the case reflected the deep problems of child protection and foster care in Finland.
In its report from 2015, the Child Ombudsman had already wrote that Finland had a shortage of adequately-trained employees working on child protection cases:
“In 2013 one in three social workers involved in child protection cases were either unqualified or incompetent. In one-fifth of municipalities, fewer than half of social workers met the qualification requirements. And in some municipalities there wasn’t a single competent social worker covering child protection cases”.
Recently, the online news channel of the Finnish public broadcasting company completed a review of the Finnish authorities’ records between 2017 and 2019 and discovered that one in ten foster homes in Finland registered irregularities in documentation, violations of human rights and infringements of the child protection law.
Lokakuun Liike mentions that even the Foster Family of the Year 2010 nominee was later proven guilty of beating, strangling and keeping their foster children in hot sauna-bath and in snow. The biological mother of the children constantly sent notifications about the children’s bruises to the social services, but the social worker in charge with the case did not investigate them and instead prohibited the mother to see the children. Also, a former board member of Foster Family Association was convicted of beating, isolating and starving her foster care children, giving them electric shocks and causing them frost injuries. She was able to torture the foster children for a long period because of lack of surveillance and lack of legal protection for the beneficiaries of the social protection service. In the meantime, media focus on protecting the image of the child protection services.
An exceptional client of Finnish social care
Mihail is an outstanding student, with diplomas of excellence in fair play and Finnish language. He used his skills to write to everybody about his situation: to the President of Finland, to Finland’s Family Minister, to administrative courts, to Members of the European Parliament, to the UN. No answer ever came back.
Mihail has recently been admitted to one of the most prestigious secondary-schools in Finland. This is a performance never seen in the Finnish child care system. He was admitted by his own efforts. He wants to become a high-profile lawyer to protect people in need. Until now, three lawyers promised to help him, but were unable to.
“If they admit their mistakes with us, they shall be
forced to admit other mistakes as well. This would force them to free thousands
of children. And this means losing lots of money”, says Camelia Smicală.
She filed a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights, while her captive son Mihail wrote many letters to the President of Finland and even to the United Nations. They feel betrayed by these institutions which never returned an answer.
But mostly they feel betrayed by the Romanian
authorities. “Romania has betrayed us”, Camelia Smicală says. “It is as if we
weren’t Romanian citizens. I find myself completely alone in this.”
Camelia Smicală says that the Romanian Embassy in Finland failed to release copies of the children’s Romanian identity papers in due time. It did not offer consular help. Former Ambassador Cătălin Avramescu constantly avoided meeting Camelia Smicală. The following ambassador, Răzvan Rotundu, did not manage to repair the damage, although he was much more involved. In a recent answer to a Member of the Romanian Parliament, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs essentially claims that all EU rules and conventions give full credit to the authority of the state in which the respective citizens are residing.
By the end of November 2019, Finnish social services
took drastic punishment measures on the children: Maria was isolated and ceased
going to school, and Mihai decided to run away to an undisclosed friend, to
avoid being isolated and prevented from going to school. Then Maria ran away,
too, from her center.
Camelia Smicală has requested repatriation to Romania
together with the children. The response from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs was that… asylum requests can only come from outside EU! In the
meantime, Finnish officials transmitted through diplomatic channels that social
care in their country is decentralized and they cannot contest decisions made
by local authorities. No word about the corruption of the police and courts
refusing to investigate and make justice for Camelia and her children.
The runaway children Johan-Mihail and Maria-Alexandra Smicală
were found in January 2020 – fortunately not with their mother. Police had
already investigated Camelia Smicală, making allegations that she incited the children
to run away. Since the children were found, nobody knows about their
whereabouts. Camelia is convinced they were confined in Psychiatry wards, since
the social services had threatened them with that before.
Solidarity with the Smicală children
Protests for the repatriation of the children continue in Romania and the Romanian western diaspora, while nobody knows where they are right now and while it is believed they are subjected to unwanted and unnecessary psychiatric treatment.
At the end of 2019, the Romanians from Paris and Nürnberg dedicated Christmas carols concerts to the Smicală children. At the concerts, Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Iosif of Western and Southern Europe and Romanian Metropolitan of Germany and Central and Northern Europe said they pray for the Smicală family.
Also, the most ardent public supporter of the Smicală children and their mother Camelia is Bishop Macarie of Northern Europe. His Eminence speaks constantly about their ordeal. One of his recent messages is:
„It is essential to unblock this situation through dialogue and a positive but firm diplomatic process within national and international law. We are convinced more can be done in this case and that involvement of the authorities is necessary to prevent an even greater tragedy.
I further urge you to even more commune prayer. Let us pray that the God of the orphans and of the widows, the God of the the poor and the oppressed be with Johan-Mihail, Maria-Alexandra și Camelia-Mihaela Smicală.”
This child care system
could soon be introduced to Romania
Camelia Smicală’s only weapon is Facebook. She is fairly visible and lucky to have caught the Romanian media’s attention. Recently, her case was presented at the public television channel (TVR) and also at one of the most popular private television stations in Romania (PRO TV). In a live video on Facebook, Camelia Smicală warns:
“The Finnish and Norwegian funds pumped millions of Euros in the Romanian social childcare system. I would like to warn Romanians that this approach to social services will be soon in Romania, as well”.
„Tens of thousands of children are simply abducted from their families and then quite many are given for adoption to homosexual couples. The goal is the destruction of family as a basic unit of society. If nobody opposes it, the same system will soon be introduced in Romania as well. People have been talking about Finland. I want to tell you it’s not about Finland as a country. There are… thousands of children taken away from their families. In the Nordic Countries a so-called child protection system has been established which actually works against the children”, she said
Recently, a wave of protests was seen in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Western diaspora. They have protested against the amendments to 28 Bulgarian laws – among them, the Adoption Law and the Civil Code. The changes allow for children to be removed from their natural families and placed in social care centers without a court order, but based on a simple administrative decision, just like in Finland. The decision can be taken after a simple anonymous tip – just like in Finland. From that moment on, children can be put up for international adoption (through foreign international NGOs), which means changing their papers and identity. Until the parents claim their rights and prove their innocence in a court of justice, the child can be literally lost forever. Bulgarian parents accuse their government for succumbing to the lobby of the powerful foreign NGOs for which adoption means lots of money.
A Romanian journalist from Italy confirms: “In parallel with Mrs. Smicală’s tragedy, I am watching other mothers from Italy who had their children abducted by social workers with the complicity of revengeful husbands, through false testimonies and declarations. These women are highly educated… Lawyers speak of 40,000 children locked into state-owned foster homes… In Italy there is a whole army of doctors, psychologists, social workers who make the abduction look legal… It is a global tragedy extending like an oil stain and I am writing this thinking that next week, at the European Parliament, some interested parties will present the [so-called – ed. note] Parental Alienation Syndrome as science despite the fact that it has no scientific basis. We should not think we shall remain immune to this.”
We might be witnesses to a silent paradigm change in social services practice. This could transform children into money-making commodities for “the system”. Under these circumstances, what is the future of social solidarity and support for parents? What is the future of adoption? Will mothers and their biological children be stripped of all their natural rights and status?