Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Dark Side of Paradise, Part I

My husband, Mr. Stapers, is a Finn. For many Americans, Finland conjures up images of attractive blondes, skiing, Sibelius, vodka, and saunas. Finland certainly has those things, and more besides. The nature is beautiful, and Finland has a lot of interesting history -- if you get the chance, you should definitely see those things. Sadly, however, one thing I hear far too often from Americans is, "Yeah, Finns are taxed pretty high, but they have a great welfare system." The "free" healthcare and education are always singled out as things the USA should have, too, but keep reading to see how this stuff isn't really free.

Anyway... Finns think pretty highly of their welfare state. They're supposed to, anyway. "It is like winning the lottery to be born in Finland," Finnish schoolchildren are told by their teachers. Maybe so, but Finns are forced to buy a heckuva lot of tickets, and the jackpot isn't very big.

Finland's economic policies would make your average American Democrat feel queasy. In order to pay for all the wonderful social benefits Finns receive, they have innumerable taxes: 40-75% income tax, 22% sales tax, 15% food tax, 120% car tax, 120% gasoline tax, death tax, property tax, gift tax, etc. There are also absurd labor laws, like the one that says every employer has to pay 150% of the payroll to the government. Of course, this means that everything in Finland is ridiculously expensive (except for pizza, for some reason). How, you ask, could any nation that once whupped the entire Red Army allow themselves to be fleeced like this? You make them think it's to their benefit, that's how, and to do this, the state's gotta get Finns when they're young. Hence, stuff like the "lottery" meme, which is hammered into schoolkids from day one. Individuality is ruthlessly surpressed, because, as all those Dewey fans know, individualists make lousy socialists. And in case anyone gets the fool idea of moving to someplace like America, well forget it. Kids find out that America is an evil, dangerous place, where you're likely to get gunned down in the streets, where there's a tiny wealthy elite and everyone else lives in refrigerator boxes, where you can't get any health care or go to school unless you're rich.

I never realized the power of indoctrination until I was told by a Finnish friend of ours on a recent visit, how good the system is -- right after he finished telling us how he's been wearing the same ratty old coat for the last ten years, because he can't afford to buy a new one, and how he couldn't afford to buy his girlfriend a pair of mittens on their trip through the Arctic Circle. Plus, his ancient car is barely running, and nobody else but him can drive it, because it's got all these bizarre quirks. But, he's getting a "free" education, and doesn't have to work while he's going to school.

This is just for starters; there's an even darker side to social paradise. And this is where our story begins.

Mr. Stapers and I have begun a battle to win custody of his sister, who is in the evil clutches of the Finnish social services gremlins. How she got there is still a mystery, but what we actually do know of this case is straight out of 1984.

Several months ago we got a mysterious message from Mr. Stapers' younger brother, 23, saying that their mother had been committed to a mental institution, and their little sister was now in a "youth house" (a pleasant welfare-state euphemism for "orphanage"). Apparently, Young Mr. had gone to visit his mother and sister one day only to find that they weren't home. Nobody knew where they were or how long they'd been gone. After about a week, Young Mr. finally learned of their whereabouts from the sister's teacher. This is Disturbing Detail #1: the teacher knew about the committals before any of the family. Young Mr. went to visit the sister in the orphanage right away, but was not permitted to see his mother, "on doctor's orders." In fact, D.D. #2: no one was allowed to see the mother for months or know anything of her condition or why she had been committed in the first place. When Young Mr. was finally able to see her, D.D. #3: she couldn't remember anything that had happened to her from the time she was taken by the state until Young Mr. was allowed to see her. Apparently, nobody will tell him why the mother and sister were seized by the state, and why they continue to keep them. The mother does have a history of alcoholism, and it's plausible that she's experiencing problems because of it. However, if this was the case, then it would be reasonable to assume that her doctors would simply tell this to the family. Or if it's some other condition that makes her committal legitimate, then why all the mystery and refusal to allow family visits? Why was there no hearing? Why was the family not informed of her committal? Why was Young Mr. not allowed to see her for months, and why is there now a gaping hole in her memory? Nothing about this situation seems right.

I'm trying to find out what more there is to this story, but am frustrated by an annoying trait peculiar to Finns: they are reticent (and patient) in the extreme. If this was my mother, I'd have been screaming and throwing stuff and demanding to know what's going on. Finns, on the other hand, calmly wait for the information. They ask little and wait long. I'm not saying patience is a bad thing, nor silence. But there's a time and a place for those things, and a time and a place to make a gigantic ruckus over something and to me this is one of those times and places. But it's not my fight, and we just have to make use of the information as it (slowly) becomes available.

I should note here that the father is a non-player in this situation. The mother had an illicit affair with a married man, got pregnant, and refused to name him -- the sister is effectively parentless right now. Young Mr., therefore, immediately petitioned for custody of his sister, only to be told that he is too young for such a responsibility. He did, however, manage to win custody of her on weekends. And it was during one of these weekend visits that Mr. Stapers was finally able to speak with his little sister. She is clearly very unhappy at the orphanage, and starved for a loving environment. When Mr. Stapers asked if she would like to come and live with us, the response was overwhelming: she said it was her dream to live with us in America. Without hesitation, we said we'd do everything in our power to make it happen. Mr. Stapers asked his sister to find out who her legal guardian is, and ask what he should do to start the process of transferring custody. I thought this was going to be a simple matter of paperwork. Afterall, Mr. Stapers and I are both in our 30s, have been married for three years, are both professionals with good jobs and good incomes, and live in a nice home. But, about a week later, we received a message from the sister explaining that the social worker said transfer of custody was impossible, because (get this) Mr. Stapers is not her father. No questions about his age, marital status, income, type of residence, etc. Just flat-out no. Mr. Stapers wasn't surprised by this response, but I sure was. As little as I think of American social workers, I know with absolute certainty that an American child in this situation would have been immediately placed with the closest capable adult relative.

So, what kind of idiot actually believes that a child is better off in an orphanage than with her family? When Mr. Stapers told me that if the Finnish government had its way, all children would be raised by the state instead of by their parents, it hit me. Finland is on its way to becoming Plato's Republic. Marriage is on the decline, and it is now quite common for couples to have children out of wedlock. With the traditional family on the way out, Finland is systematically relieving parents of their duties, including: education, healthcare (children are given full physical examinations at school), nutrition (children receive two of their daily meals at school), discipline, sex education, and instillation of values and political views.

So, the government has its grubby clutches on at least one child, and plans to keep her. Lest anyone think the social worker's iron grip on the sister is entirely based on the government's twisted code of ethics, Mr. Stapers does point out that the sister also represents a source of revenue for these people and their institution (as does the mother), and they won't give this up without a fight. Well, we won't give up period. One way or another, this child is getting out of Finland and that stupid orphanage so she can live with her family.

What's the next step? Getting the child her passport, while we gather more information on Finnish law so we can challenge the sister's social worker. Often it is the case that American social workers are ignorant of the law, and make things up as they go. Hopefully, this is true of our case, and Finnish law will turn out to be on our side. If that doesn't work, we'll start contacting amnesty groups, child welfare groups, and lawyers who handle this type of thing. Finland is probably the last nation on any group's watch list, but then again, I didn't even know that Finland recognizes no right to due process, no right to a hearing, no duty to keep next of kin informed. Seems as though the Finnish state has absolute power, and that's double-plus ungood.

We'll keep you posted on stuff as it happens.


Blogger Kevin said...

I wish you all the best in your efforts, and I'll be checking in to see how things are going, but I recommend redacting the "on the sly" bit. Just to be safe.

12/16/2004 7:14 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

All the best for this struggle. I have had a lot of foster-brothers and I suggest that seeking clear knowledge of the legal and administrative processes, and how to push the right bureaucratic buttons, will pay off more than writing to Amnesty.

12/16/2004 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, Sarah, just... damn.

My prayers are with you guys.

Sadly, this highlights the horror of a Socialist State. People aren't people, they are cogs, resources to be exploited, test cases to be run and observed for the next batch of, I can't even really call them children, small dependent biological units.


5/12/2005 7:52 AM  

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