Elina Pekkarinen, the Ombudsman for Children, took up her post on May 1, 2019. Pekkarinen sees the task as very important and significant. She has followed the post since its inception. Work is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( Sops 59-60 / 1991).
− I enjoyed my job very well. In the beginning, it takes time to outline the job description, when it covers one million children and their families, Pekkarinen says.
How does the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) define the child's well-being?
According to Pekkarinen, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child sees child well-being as a broad concept. It includes health, social security, education, inclusion, and community membership. It also includes the fundamental and civil rights of the child, such as the right to influence, to be heard and to express her views.
− The Convention on the Rights of the Child radically puts children next to adults. Children have the right to self-determination and the right to be seen as subjects, Pekkarinen points out.
The Ombudsman for Children takes the child as a whole into consideration. According to her, the view of the child is easily one-sided. Thus, for example, in early childhood education, a child is often seen as a learner and a developing individual. In the social field, children are often seen as someone to protect, while in health care they are often seen as a sick individual. The agreement takes into account the extent of well-being. However, she criticized the concept of well-being.
− It is not enough that the children are doing well. A well-off child also has other rights, such as the right to influence and participate. The child is subordinate to the adult. Even though the child has the same human rights, Pekkarinen points out.
Will the agreement on child welfare be implemented and how?
Pekkarinen points out that it is easy to forget that the agreement has been implemented in Finland by law. The agreement entered into force in 1991. According to her, compliance with the agreement is forgotten. She would like to recall that the state is committed to promoting the well-being of the child and that this should be taken into account in decision-making. For example, in children's settings and early childhood education, Child Impact Assessment is often overlooked.
− The best interests of the child are defined in Article 4 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Section 4 of the Child Welfare Act (417/2007). They provide a comprehensive account of what a child's well-being entails, from nutrition to independence, says Pekkarinen.
How can an adult influence a child's well-being?
Pekkarinen states that an adult can influence a child's well-being in every possible way, for example by taking care of the child, being friendly to her and observing the child in her own environment. An adult can also negatively affect a child's well-being by, for example, belittling the child or leaving the child out of the group of children.
− Some children may be forgotten, neglected or constantly given negative feedback on bad behavior. Does the nearby adult then recognize the ongoing negative spiral of targeting the child? It may be the only feedback a child receives during the day and it will harm the child, Pekkarinen ponders.
According to the Ombudsman for Children, adults closest to the child can have the greatest impact on the child's well-being. He also notes that, unfortunately, it is often the case, for example, in early childhood education, that there is a tendency to contact the authorities.
Those working with children are the 'keys' to a child's well-being
According to Pekkarinen, it is really important to emphasize that people who work with children have the "keys" to increase the well-being and safety of the child. People who work with children are close to the child and often understand the child and the needs of the child. Professionals are, therefore, in a key position for the well-being of the child. At the same time, professionals may be at the greatest risk of harming the child.
− It is important to support those adults who work with children. For example, parents often feel left alone with family problems, says Pekkarinen.
What would you like from decision-makers to promote the well-being of children?
According to the Ombudsman for Children, solemn speeches often emphasize that one cannot afford to lose any children or adolescents. Still, the cuts are often directed at children, with the first saving often being financial aid from early childhood education and education.
− If children are cared for, the financial aid will not be cut from the children. In Iceland, for example, a conscious decision was made in 2008 that children and families should not be the target of cutting off the resources. Children should not be deprived of resources because they are not to blame for the situation, Pekkarinen says.
Pekkarinen is aware that the situation of the municipalities is hard. She thinks it would be important to think at the national level where the resources will be allocated. The Ombudsman for Children hopes for wisdom in decision-making, where decisions are based on research and the best interests of the child, as well as the impact that the decisions have on children.
Children's rights 30 years
Children's Rights Day is celebrated internationally on 20 November each year. The Children's Rights Week is celebrated in conjunction with the Children's Rights Day, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its implementation. The theme of the week this year is the right of the child to be herself. In 2019, the CRC will be 30 years old.
Writer: Saana Sönderlund
Interviewee: Elina Pekkarinen, Ombudsman for Children
Picture: Hanna-Kaisa Hämäläinen