Immigrant parents are suspicious of social services 

Particularly parents from Arab immigrant communities fear that Finnish social services may exacerbate family problems rather than alleviate them.

Sarkawt Rstem

Published 11.02.2024 8:13

Updated 11.02.2024 8:13

Parents from different foreign countries face significant challenges when raising their children in Finland. 

“The majority of these families have pre-existing fears and negative perceptions of social services, creating a significant gap between us and these families,” says Marjo Alatalo, a project manager from Health and Social Services Reform. 

The negative perception of social service centers particularly among Arab immigrant communities is based on the belief that these centers and their employees often exacerbate family problems and conflicts instead of resolving them or providing opportunities for parents to correct and educate themselves from the beginning. 

Arab parents are hesitant to discuss social services or child welfare. For example, it was challenging to find parents willing to talk about the issue for this story.  

Parents Razzak and Hussein, originally from two different Arab countries, acknowledged the problem. They, too, were extremely cautious when discussing the details of parenting and their children and did not want to have their full names published in the article. 

Hussein often feels puzzled when dealing with his 16-year-old son.  

“I fear being too strict with him and things escalating to the point where I end up in trouble with social services. At the same time, if I’m too lenient, he might exceed the boundaries in his behavior,” Hussein says. 

Parents fear that children are encouraged to report them 

Parents interviewed for this article believed that authorities encourage their children to report potential parental neglect, creating conflict instead of resolving them.  

Simultaneously, parents fear that this encouragement leads children to manipulate situations at home to make their parents act in a certain way favorable to the children themselves. 

These parents feel that authorities in Finland blindly trust children. 

“Some immigrant parents seem to believe that children’s rights mean that a child has the right to get what they want and do as they please. This is a misunderstanding and a fallacy. Setting boundaries for a child’s behavior is the responsibility of parents”, Marjo Alatalo says. 

The matter requires pre-emptive steps for prevention 

The Social Services and Child Protection in Helsinki recently conducted a study on the trust of immigrant parents in the social workers and child protection authorities. They developed an education and counselling program for immigrant parents to comprehensively introduce their services. 

Many immigrant parents turn to social services during pregnancy and childbirth. But then later on they distance themselves due to a lack of trust and a distorted image of the social services. Therefore, the purpose of the new project is to promote trust between the authorities and immigrant families, which hopefully rectify misconceptions, and address negative perceptions.  

“We are pleased that the parents who have participated Vanhempana Suomessa group-meetings during the pilot, gave us positive feedback. They told that this new model is really needed in Finland and that all immigrant parents would benefit from this kind of information in the future”, Marjo Alatalo says.