Reform school in change. Study on the position and tasks of reform schools


(In Finnish: Koulukoti muutoksessa. Selvitys koulukotien asemasta ja tehtävästä)

Elina Pekkarinen

This report is based on a study, launched by the Programme to address child and family services (LAPE) and the National Institute for Health and Welfare, on the position and tasks of reform schools within the field of demanding child welfare services that is undergoing reorganisation. The study was conducted by the Finnish Youth Research Network.

Reform schools provide care, and basic and additional education for children and young people with severe social and behavioural issues, who require considerable support on account of their life situation. Reform schools operate not only within the sphere of special needs education but also on the boundaries of psychiatric care, substance abuse services and criminal justice services, offering support to the entire family. The report examines the operations, tasks and position of five state-owned reform schools and two private reform schools in the existing structure of social welfare and health care services and in the proposed reorganised structure.

The study is based on a large volume of documentary material and interviews with eight directors of reform schools, six members of the professional staff and three school principals. It amasses information on the history and current structure of reform schools, the young people placed in reform schools and their support needs, the care, education and rehabilitation provided by reform schools, and the regional distribution and positioning of reform schools within the field of more demanding services. Perspectives on the position, tasks and outlook of reform schools are considered separately. The study provides an overview of the appropriate positioning of reform school services in the reorganised social welfare, health care and educational services structure, and provides an opinion on the way in which reform school operations should be developed.

The study shows that the children and young people who are placed in reform schools are individuals in need of the type of support that has not been available elsewhere. Providing support to children is based on a clearly structured daily life, the ability to engage in professional interaction, multidisciplinary expertise and taking the entire family into consideration. The care and education provided by reform schools must be given at the right time and for a sufficient period of time. Reform schools are keen to develop network cooperation. In the future, they will become a natural part of the competence and support structures made up by child and family services providing demanding special expertise.

Keywords: child welfare, social services, reform of social welfare and health care, young people, reform schools, child welfare institution, youth research, social work