Doctoral dissertation

Essi Julin: Investigating Child Abuse in Finland: A Parent Perspective

Essi Julin
The doctoral dissertation of M.Soc.Sc. Essi Julin aimed to find out how parents experience the Finnish multiprofessional and inter-organizational investigation process of a suspected sexual or physical abuse of their child. The study also aimed to find out, what kind of consequences there are both in family relations and people themselves from a parent perspective, when the investigation process takes place.

In Finland almost all child abuse cases, including disciplinary violence, are considered as a crime and investigated by police. They can ask help from one of the specialized multiprofessional Forensic Units for Children and Adolescents. These five units operate under the jurisdiction of University hospitals. Child welfare authorities are also involved in family life when there is a suspected child abuse case. This kind of heavy state intervention in private family life can be justified by including in the process those who are involved and treating them fairly. Julin's dissertation uses concepts of procedural justice and institutional trust in order to examine and understand experiences.

The dissertation study is qualitative and the nationwide data consists of 15 narrative interviews of parents and foster parents, whose child has been a suspected victim of abuse in a criminal investigation. Parents were asked to tell their story about the investigation process as part of their personal life. Parents are either suspect of a crime him-/herself or a concerned party. The data is gathered between November 2016 and December 2018 and it is analyzed using inductive thematic content analysis and typologies.

Julin's dissertation is a monograph and there are four chapters, which includes results. The first chapter pays attention to parents’ experiences from the institutional point of view. The second chapter has the relational point of view, and the third chapter is from a personal point of view of parents. The fourth chapter presents three typologies based on parents’ experiences: parents, who are taken seriously, parents, who wait and parents, who are disregarded during the process.

The results show that during the criminal investigation of a child, aspects of procedural justice are important to parents. From the point of view of the parents it is important, how they are treated by authorities. They also want to feel that they are part of the process, and they want to be heard. When the abuse case is considered as a crime more clearly by authorities, the overall experience from a parent perspective is more positive. Processes and practices are simpler and the whole process is usually shorter. When the suspected crime is not that serious in criminal sense, for example disciplinary violence, or the whole case is ambiguous, the process can be long and unclear from the parent perspective.

There are also lots of different (unintended) consequences in family relations and people themselves both because of the suspected abuse itself and practices during the investigation. When there is a suspected child abuse case, it can be a crisis to a parent. It disrupts both the family life and people themselves.

This kind of exceptional circumstance has an effect on personal feelings and performance in different aspects of life. It also effects on relations between children, parents and other family members for example changing the nature and practices of communicating with each other. When taking care of the child’s matter, authorities should always remember that there are other family members involved as well. There should be enough support available also for parents during the investigation process.

In spite of the nature of the suspicion, all child abuse investigations should happen without delay and authorities should remember the elements of procedural justice, when dealing with the parents. Especially creating trust is important, because experiences in one process can have an effect on how people trust the authorities also in the future. When the threshold for criminal investigation is low, there should be enough resources and structures in society to handle these cases in appropriate way. Different cases should be handled with bearing the child’s best interest in mind.

The dissertation signifies the importance of paying attention to the parent perspective in institutional practices. There are also some practical recommendations based on results of the study, which can be used when developing the existing practices.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Soc.Sc. Essi Julin in the field of social work titled Lapsiin kohdistuva väkivaltarikostutkinta: Vanhempien näkökulma will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 24 September, 2021. The venue is Linna building lecture hall K103, address: Kalevantie 5. Professor Merja Laitinen from University of Lapland will be the opponent while Professor Tarja Pösö will act as the custos.

Only a limited amount of persons can participate in the doctoral defence in Linna building but the event can also be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at

Photo: Mikko Rissanen



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