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Protectors at heart

Protectors at heart. We act when a child’s welfare is at risk We arrange help for the child and family We take the time to see behind the problems. Because every child, every young person deserves a chance. Always! Our work is a calling, and we do it with commitment. We are protectors at heart.

#hingeltkaitsja

We act when a child’s welfare is at risk

We arrange help for the child and family

We take the time to see behind the problems. Because every child, every young person deserves a chance. Always!

Our work is a calling, and we do it with commitment.

We are protectors at heart.

  • The child, their rights and well-being are always at the centre of the child protection official’s decisions.

  • It is the job of the child protection official to find out the child’s opinion and take it into account as much as possible.

  • The child and the family are the experts in their own lives, and their opinion is very important. As a rule, suitable solutions are sought for each child together with the family.

  • To help the child and the family, the child protection worker works with other professionals – teachers, the police, the local government, doctors, hobby education providers, and others. A child protection worker brings together a range of professionals and holds together the network that supports the child and their loved ones.

  • A child protection worker is not only there to help solve big problems, but also to help prevent them. Any parent can seek help from child protection without fear of being judged, and ask for help.

  • For children, parents and professionals, there is the free 24-hour, nationwide helpline 116 111.

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    A child protection worker is a person who does their job with a big heart and gives it their all.

Read the stories below from the lives of child protection workers, of how persistent work gets results

‘A child protection worker does not always have to be the big central decision-maker – our help is also sufficient for taking small but important steps.’

My story demonstrates vividly that a child protection worker does not always have to be the big central decision-maker – our help is also sufficient for taking small but important steps. 

I had an experience with a young person who was caught using drugs, but had no other offences or concerns with school. Talking to him soon revealed the root cause of his worries – the boy’s relationship with his father was not exactly good.

In cooperation with the police, the young man ended up in the Clean Future programme. I discussed the situation with both the child and the father. Together, we realised that there was one thing they both really liked to do – run. So I suggested that maybe they should try to go running together, maybe a morning run together would help improve father-child relations? And so it did.

Finding a small but important shared daily activity helped the parent and child to get closer again and to warm up the relationship. So, the young man’s troubles were put behind him.

This story demonstrates well that a child protection worker can help to untangle relationships that have run aground and avoid bigger problems if the family seeks help by itself and is open to considering different ways and solutions.

 

Child protection workers can also sometimes fulfil children’s dreams. I was dealing with a family where the relationship between the parents was not warm, and it was clear that they were no longer going to work out as a couple.

The parents had many disagreements, disputes, they divided property and custody, and also argued about who would take care of the child and when. However, the situation was very worrying for their young son.

I met with the parents several times and my message to them was that the child needs both parents alongside him, and that they will be the child’s parents for life. Parental cooperation and acceptance of each other are essential to ensuring the well-being of the child. It was clear that both parents cared very much for their child and loved him.

The little boy’s big dream was to eat at the same table with his father and mother. I am glad that I was able to convince the parents to go through the family mediation programme, which is designed to untangle jumbled up human relationships and rediscover respect and courtesy towards each other. 

The parents gradually resumed communication and reached an agreement on other issues, as well. They were very commendable and also went to family therapy, did a lot of work on rising above themselves, dealing with their emotions and anger, forgiving each other.

I can tell you that these parents acted for the happiness and safety of their child, for improving his development, his coping and his emotional well-being. As a result of the parents’ work, they are now able to communicate without fights, to make agreements and to organise family events together. The child got used to the new living environment and way of life.

The little boy realises that even though his parents no longer live together, his loving mother and father will always be there for him. Child protection work is always most successful when families want to find solutions themselves and are prepared to work for the well-being of the child. Our work is always focused on finding solutions from the child’s point of view. Often, this is not just about helping the child, but more about helping the parents.

‘Child protection workers can also sometimes fulfil children’s dreams. I was dealing with a family where the relationship between the parents was not warm, and it was clear that they were no longer going to work out as a couple.’

 

‘We also offer support, advice and encouragement when it feels like the next step is very difficult to take.’

Many of the stories in our work are long and require commitment, sometimes over several years. I have been working on a specific story for a long time already, and it has not really finished yet. A young man with a complicated history ended up in a closed school. In the spring, he left the special school and was determined to change his life.

Teamwork based on the ‘Out of the Circle’ model has worked brilliantly for this story. This means that in addition to the child protection worker, a network consisting of the police, a social pedagogue, a psychologist, and others who understand how to support the family, work together to support the child and the family in coming out of the vicious circle. Members of the network help both the young person and the parent not to lose hope, find solutions in the case of setbacks and also support each other in helping the family.

Of course, the family itself also plays a big role in the network, and this kind of networking is a safety net for the family and helps keep us all motivated.

The parent of this family has been involved and open to help all along. I believe that this will be a great help for young people in finding the right path. A parent’s willingness to cooperate will certainly make it easier for anyone trying to help support the family. 

This young person spent the whole summer working to raise money for his dreams. There have been no offences or other concerns. Networking meetings are held on an ongoing basis to keep track of his progress and support the young person on this journey. Meetings are also attended by the parent and the young person themselves. This is how we achieve the best results – in the end, it is they who are in charge of their own lives. We also offer support, advice and encouragement when it feels like the next step is very difficult to take.

 

I enjoy situations where I feel I can help parents find ways to improve their relationship with their child. These, in turn, lead to the next step, where a more functional relationship is established, the young person hears and listens, and perhaps makes more decisions with the parent, rather than against the parent’s wishes.

For example, one of my clients is a family with children with behavioural problems, where the mother sometimes feels the waves crashing over her head and she cannot find ways to talk to the children and build cooperative relationships.

By discussing things together, we get to the bottom of children’s behavioural problems. Cooperation with the family continues, and the current focus is on family relations – keeping to agreements and shared values.

I am delighted with the recognition of my work: the mother says she admires how I can remain calm and respectful and supportive of the child, even in the most difficult situations. I believe that he is trying to do the same himself, and that makes me very happy.

‘I enjoy situations where I feel I can help parents find ways to improve their relationship with their child.’

 

‘As a child protection worker, I can be a support person and counsellor for families, to help them find their way out of difficult situations, step by step.’

 

One of the great achievements of my work is that, through long and continuous work, I have managed to establish contact with a family with whom I had a very difficult start.

There are many children in the family, finances are tight and several family members have special needs. The children tended skip school and the family also had other problems. The family had moved around a lot and avoided any attention from the local government or national officials.

As a result of consistent hard work and building a mutually respectful relationship, I now have a relationship of trust with the family. We are at a point where agreements both within the family and with child protection are working and the family is fully open to cooperation.

By working together, we have achieved a family that is more courageous in looking to the future and addressing concerns that were previously overlooked or ignored, whether economic or psychological.

The fact that they dare to come and ask for help themselves is also a big improvement. It is at moments like these that I know I have done something right in my work. As a child protection worker, I can be a support person and counsellor for families, to help them find their way out of difficult situations, step by step, offering support in building more confident and trusting relationships.  

 

This story talks about child protection from a much different aspect – an important part of our job is also educating parents to take better care of their children and build their families.

We combined what was necessary with what was useful and so, 10 years ago, a family centre was established in our home town, which was a long-awaited dream come true for me and my friends. Every community needs a place like this.

The centre offers a range of activities, hobbies and services for families with children, but our main focus was on supporting parents and promoting parent education. After a while, we set up a non-profit organisation to run the centre and apply for project grants.

The rooms, which initially needed major repairs, have been transformed over the past ten years into a kitchen with modern furnishings, a shower room with laundry facilities, a multipurpose hall, and a playroom for children. In the early days, the centre also had a recycling centre, where people could bring their second-hand clothes, shoes and other household items to be donated free of charge. The centre employs a hostess, who is responsible for day-to-day communication with parents and instructors, as well as keeping the premises tidy.

Throughout the years, many volunteers have been involved in our activities. The centre is a nice and warm community-building place where we have, over the years, offered a series of training and lectures for parents on first aid, nutrition, mental health and much more.

We welcome all children, from babies in playgroups to school-age children who want to learn a foreign language at different levels. In the evenings, guests can relax in various yoga groups. We also offer parents the opportunity to celebrate their children’s birthdays at our centre – for this, we have acquired a wide range of toys and furnished a play corner for active play.

‘We combined what was necessary with what was useful and so, 10 years ago, a family centre was established in our home town, which was a long-awaited dream come true for me and my friends.’

 

 

‘The boys’ future was saved because I did not treat them as children. I respected their feelings, I let them express their hopelessness and frustration, and I was not afraid of the boys’ strong feelings and emotions.’

 

Children develop through the power of their parents’ love and understanding. I supported a family where two 16-year-old boys longed for their father, who had abandoned them at an early age.

Before finishing primary school, the young men had a major motivation crisis, seeing no point in going to school or doing anything that could make their father happy. They had dreamt of making their father happy and receiving his recognition all their childhood, but this never came because their father was not in their lives.

Now, they were losing sight of their goal because there was no power of parental love. The mother worked non-stop to feed the children. There was no time for anything else. The boys were on the verge of giving up – they became friends with people who had already lost hope of ever gaining their parents’ attention and love, and who had found new hope and love in alcohol and drugs.

The boys’ future was saved because I did not treat them as children. I respected their feelings, acknowledged their grief of their father’s absence, let them express their hopelessness and frustration, and was not afraid of the boys’ strong feelings and emotions. Once their spirits were buoyant again, it was time to overcome the backlog of schoolwork and the shame and fear related to school.

I went to school with the boys to catch up on homework that they had not done, helped them prepare for exams and also went to exams with them. I also went to the graduation ceremony – both boys hugged me, tears in their eyes, and said that they could not have done this without me. They went on to vocational school and are now managing their lives well.

 

One of the most difficult situations for a child protection worker is certainly when they have to work with parents who have problems with various addictive substances.

I am glad to have a positive experience in this area too – in one family, I managed to get the parents to think about what is really important in life.

As a result of months of discussions, parents came to the understanding that the aim of the child protection worker is not to separate the child from the family, but to support and help them as parents.

Constant communication, the provision of support services and a change in the parents’ attitude led to the child growing up in a safe environment with their parents. Much to my delight, the parents of this family still contact the child protection worker just to have a chat or to wish them a Merry Christmas.

‘Much to my delight, the parents of this family still contact the child protection worker just to have a chat or to wish them a Merry Christmas.’

 
  • There are 275 child protection workers in Estonia today, 114 of them work in Tallinn and Harju County.
  • Several counties have fewer than 10 child protection workers.
  • In 2020, there was an average of 46 children per child protection worker who needed comprehensive support.
  • The first eight months of 2021 have brought 1603 new cases – children and families in need of multifaceted support – to the attention of child protection workers.
  • The highest number of children in need per inhabitant was in Põlva County, where there were 9 child protection cases per 1,000 inhabitants last year, and the lowest in Harju County, where there were 4.
  • Compared to last year, the number of child protection cases increased the most in Järva and Valga County (15% and 12%, respectively).
  • The main issues on the desk of child protection workers are the child’s need for assistance due to health or disability, risk behaviour and problems arising from educational or other special needs.
  • The number of custody-related concerns and disputes on the caseloads of child protection workers is growing – in 2018, child protection workers had less than a thousand cases on their caseloads, compared to almost 1,400 last year, and more than 800 in the first eight months of this year.
  • Separations of children from the birth families have decreased over the years. While 353 children were separated from their families in 2016, 284 were separated in 2020.
  • Alternative care is increasingly moving from an institution-centred to a family-centred approach. If, for any reason, a child cannot grow up in their birth home and needs temporary or long-term care outside their family, the child protection worker will support the child in finding the most suitable family.

    At the end of 2020, there were 2,102 children in family-based alternative care: 145 children in foster families, 1,332 children in guardianship families, and 625 adopted children.  At the end of 2020, there were 800 children living in institution-based alternative care, i.e. family and foster homes.

    There is a steady increase in the number of children separated from their birth families and placed in alternative care, who are given the opportunity to grow up in foster care: it reached 133 children in 2019 and 145 by the end of 2020, representing 15% of children in alternative care services (alternative care services include alternative care, family homes, and foster homes).