Dr Christine Puckering is on a Winston Churchill Fellowship Tour, looking at how babies at social risk are identified early, even in pregnancy, and what services are put in place to promote a secure attachment between mother and child and father and child.
Christine is going to provide regular blogs on her tour of Netherlands, Iceland, Norway & Finland.
The journey to Helsinki was via Vanaja women’s prison where a mother and child unit houses ten women and their children in an open prison, more like a country estate than a secure fortress. Driving along an avenue of trees, I reached the low house with no obvious fence or barrier. There are ten ensuite rooms for women and their children up to three with shared kitchen and living rooms. The unit is staffed not by prison officers but professionals from Ensi-coti, an organisation originally set up a by a group of formidable political women in 1936, who, when parliament refused to support “fallen women”, set up shelters themselves. Their network of support now covers women and men with psychological problems, alcohol and drug problems with phone lines, day units, and residential support to families to support good early interaction. Their aim is to enhance early interaction. I felt very at home!
The rest of my time in Helsinki has been meeting those at the more strategic and policy level. Like other countries, Finland has undergone a period of austerity and is about to undergo a major political change as health and social welfare come under one management, with the decision still to be made as to how many elected authorities there will be. The management structure will be bigger than a municipality of which there are currently over 300, but smaller than a national unit with some indication that groupings around the five University Hospitals would have some logic. The heavy population in the south of Finland and the very sparse population in Lapland make geographic decisions very uneven.