Monday, 14 November 2011

Social Service Students in the States

In June 2011, the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) received 15 students and three teachers from Michigan State University as part of Summer School in International Social Welfare Policies and Practice programme. In return, six social service students and two instructors flew from Finland to the USA at the end of September 2011. Our mission was to get to know how social welfare system works in the States. This collaboration started a few years ago and, hopefully, it will continue long into the future. (See:
A visit to Grand Haven
Our trip started from Chicago where we spent a couple of days. Our first visit was to the Juvenile Detenion Alternative Initiatives programme ( This national programme focuses on finding alternative solutions to confinement and securing children a healthy and productive life.

We can highly recommend other visitors to stop by at the John Hancock Observatory. There you can enjoy magnificent views over the city. 
A view from John Hancock Observatory
In Chicago, we also visited the Hull-House Museum ( The social settlement, founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and her companions, grew into a significant contributor in the community. Its services included, for example, a kindergarten, art and music classes and support for immigrants.

From Chicago we took the train to East Lansing, Michigan. The train was clean, comfortable and on time, and it is definitely worth it to spend a few hours on the train where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery.

In East Lansing, we visited a retirement community called Burcham Hills, Office on Aging, and Department of Human Services. Burcham Hills ( offers assisted living and skilled nursing services for the elderly. The facilities were fantastic, but we were quite shocked to hear the cost of living there: 3000 – 7000 dollars a month.

The Office on Aging ( provides services for the elderly as well. One of its goals is to find likely candidates for a nursing home and give them the opportunity to make the choice to stay in their own home. Its most famous programme is Meals On Wheels and the services are no or low cost.

We visited Ingham County Department of Human Services. We were told about child protective services as well as adult protective services. One of the striking differences between the Amrican and Finnish child welfare systems is that in the USA parental rights can be terminated. If the parents do not show enough progress or willingness to make improvements, their parental rights can be terminated and their children are adopted.

Michael Patton lecturing
We also had the chance to attend Utilization-Focused Evaluation Workshop in East Lansing. The instructor at the workshop was Michael Quinn Patton, a famous evaluation consultant and writer. Evidence-based evaluation is stressed much more in the US than in Finland. Service providers need to defend their work and show results to funders – and what could be more compelling than hard-core data and facts.

In general, we noticed that the USA is a country of litigation. Much of the decision-making done by the Finnish social workers goes to the court in the States. From our point of view, US attorneys and judges hold a great deal of power, considering how little they sometimes know about their clients.

Against that background, it was interesting to visit Chance at Childhood (, a collaboration between social work students and law students at MSU. Student teams mainly handle custody cases. This gives law students a chance to get to know the social aspect of custody cases, and social work students get familiar with the legal issues and the jargon, which can often seem intimidating.

We spent the last three days of our journey in Grand Rapids where we visited Bethany Christian Services ( and Hope Network (, services founded upon Christian values. Bethany Christian Services handles foster care and adoption issues and provides trauma therapy for families. Hope Network provides residential care for people with brain injury and developmental disabilities.
Hope Center
During the course of our stay, we met amazing people who were so generous with their time and effort. We were just overwhelmed with the hospitality of our hosts. As we Finns know, the Americans love their cars, but our group now knows why. The distances are much longer, especially in the countryside, and public transportation is not as effective as in Finland. Luckily, our hosts from the MSU (Karen, Amanda and Marcia) were our designated drivers and we got around beautifully in our van.

Our trip ended with a lovely visit to Grand Haven where we spent the day at the beach in warm weather (80F/26C). Some of us even got a little sunburned (in October!). We were all left with fond memories, a lot of information and new friends. Thank you to our fantastic group and hosts!

Text: Hannakaisa Hänninen, second-year Social Services student
Photos: Ulla-Maija Koivula

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