Authority: Child protection must interfere in family life in case of suspicions of violence

PHOTO: PantherMedia / Scanpix

By law, a child protection official has the right and responsibility to interfere in a family’s domestic affairs even in the event of a mere suspicion of danger, the Estonian Social Insurance Board said in response to an inquiry whether suspicions of violence are a family’s internal affair – as was claimed by Interior Minister Mart Helme – or not.

At a government press conference on Thursday, Interior Minister and Conservative People's Party (EKRE) leader Mart Helme condemned the fact that after suspicions of domestic violence in Marti Kuusik, EKRE’s minister of foreign trade and IT who resigned on Tuesday, child protection and women’s organizations have interfered in the domestic affairs of Kuusik’s family.

“This is appalling to me, it is unacceptable. I can in no way approve of child protection officials and representatives of women’s organizations who are meddling in the internal matters of that family going to their door,” Helme said.

“A child protection official is fulfilling a task originating from law and has the right and responsibility to interfere in a family’s life also in case of a suspicion of danger,” Kaja Rattas, head of the North district of the child protection department of the Social Insurance Board, said, adding that a child is in need of help when their sense of security, development and welfare are endangered.

“Regardless of the extent to which a child is aware of what is happening between adults, when it comes to incidents of domestic violence, a child’s welfare has been damaged, and we would definitely be dealing with a child in need of aid. Witnessing violence will damage a child severely and, depending on the child’s age, they may also be affected by physical danger in addition to emotional trauma,” Rattas said.

In a situation where the local government receives a report about a child in need of help – for example, a domestic violence report or a suspicion in a family with children – a child protection official will try to quickly contact family members and the family will be visited as soon as possible.

“The children will be spoken to as well. A home visit as well as a conversation with family members are normal parts of child protection work. Naturally, when communicating with the family, it must be ensured that the victim and the children are not put in any danger again,” Rattas said.

After checking the information and making an initial assessment, the child protection official can decide whether the incident will be dealt with further and necessary aid measures found for the family. A parent who has fallen victim to violence can also be helped by aid workers of the Social Insurance Board, a women’s shelter and other aid organizations.

“Domestic violence can never be considered purely a family’s domestic matter,” Rattas emphasized.

In a situation weakened by violence, the entire family needs help as the family’s own resources may have been damaged. Children will not be able to stand for their rights and interests themselves and will rely fully on the adults. In a family where one parent may be violent and the other a victim, the child’s situation could be quite defenseless.

“Considering this, it is crucial for bystanders to notice and respond,” Rattas said. “It is important that children know that a concern they for some reason cannot discuss with their parent can be told to an adult that is safe for the child, whether a family doctor, class teacher, relative, police officer or a specialist by calling the child aid number 116 111,” she added.