Runaway young face many dangers

Miia Lehtinen Published Date 13.4.2023 9.41 Blog

The young leaving without permission from foster care units are often on their own, facing a great risk of falling victim of crimes, or becoming perpetrators themselves. For example, the runaway may become a victim of human trafficking. To solve an individual child’s situation, we need multiprofessional collaboration between the authorities and organisations.

The young are considered to be children until they are 18 years of age. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prescribes that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. For example, when the authorities take measures, they must ensure that their actions do not harm the child or violate their legal rights. 

”Every year thousands of young run away” 

In the recent survey called Hatka (runaway) made by the association Pesäpuu ry, the focus was on children and the young who have left their foster care unit without permission and have not returned. Every year, this phenomenon involves thousands of young people. The survey is of utmost importance as the sad phenomenon is also present in policing work. 

Running away from foster care causes concrete danger to the young. They young  in a vulnerable situation are in need of special protection. For example, the young person might be forced to commit a crime or pay for the place to stay with sex. The Police and the society at large are understandably concerned for these children and young persons. It is obvious that society’s services are not working as intended if the young find that running away is a better option than staying in foster care. The scarce and changing resources of various professionals make it more difficult to have a full picture of the situation, and many employees work at the limit of their capacity. We should have better means to assess the young persons’ overall situation and support them.

”Society at large is responsible for crime prevention” 

In the work with children and the young, multiprofessional cooperation is key. When the Police gets a case involving a young person, the situation should be looked at in collaboration with various authorities sitting around one table. This calls for regional multiprofessional modes of operation. A criminal procedure is often stressing, and it is not purposeful to proceed in minor issues. The most important thing is to provide the young with support, with the aim of interrupting the cycle of negative events. The objective is to engage the child, and if necessary, the family, in the process of help.

Crime prevention must be nation-wide work done across various authority borders, and locally part of the municipal plans and actions (Ministry of Justice, National Crime Prevention Programme, 2016-2020, 2021). We must take a serious multiprofessional look at the ways to effectively prevent children and the young from falling victims of crime and committing crimes themselves. A well-functioning cooperation between the social welfare and healthcare authorities and the Police plays an important role in crime prevention. Crime prevention should be a core objective of collaboration. 

”We must recognise the fact that perpetrators may, in fact, be victims of human trafficking”

It is important to be aware of the fact that the young might be forced to commit crime, which makes them victims of human trafficking. We must recognise this alone for the fact that the impunity principle must be taken into consideration during the criminal procedure. A publication by the Ministry of Justice (Hannonen & Kainulainen 2022) found that a victim of human trafficking, forced to commit crime, must not be punished. According to the publication, there are shortcomings in the application of the impunity principle as concerns victims of human trafficking – during criminal proceedings, insufficient attention is paid to the exploitation that hides behind the crime. The Police, prosecutors and judges are obligated to consider the application of the impunity principle in individual cases. 

Our society must take care of the children and the young who are not feeling well and do it in a timely manner. Preventive measures play a decisive role. The challenging situations in families must be recognised in time, and they must get the necessary support. The environment and the family also play an important role for the wellbeing of the young. Problems are often a combination of many issues. When a young becomes a Police customer, a lot has already happened. Fortunately, it is not too late to do something if we take the correct action on a multiprofessional basis.

Miia Lehtinen
Superintendent, Police specialist in the Barnahus project
National Police Board
Twitter @miia_lehtinen

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