Friday, 8 April 2016

I'm Baffled.

Dear City of Jyväskylä,

Allow me to introduce myself - my name is Dominique and I am a Canadian citizen living in your charming little city for the past 6.5 years.
I pay my taxes, have tried to learn Finnish and am even attending a wonderful cooking school (in Finnish).
I have three children V-Man, A-Man and M-Girl and they are all given the utmost Finnish names possible because we are proud to call Finland our home.
We would love to live here for the rest of our lives as we have a great relationship with the community, have built multiple friendships here and thoroughly love the way of life here.
We love the smallness of the city, the nature surrounding us regularly and the knowledge that our children are safe and happy here.

We are in quite a unique situation as we never know what the following year will bring us because of my husband's field and specialty - jobs are scarce and hard to come by.  Fair enough - this applies to most of the academics all around the world.
However what makes our situation particularly interesting is that our son V-Man is diagnosed (as of 2011) with non-verbal autism and as of 2014 - mental retardation.
So it isn't easy to simply choose another place to live and move wherever we like.

We had been informed last week that it was urgent that the V-Man get an extra special safety harness for the taxi rides to and from school because he has learned how to un-buckle his seat belt.
We immediately sent a message to his social worker and as it was Friday and her office was probably closed - we didn't get a response until this week.  The message was simple - "Have the teacher call me between 10-11 today."
Fair enough - I sent off a text to his teacher this message and a few days later (today) - his school assistant called me with this news:

"The social worker said they cannot cover the cost of the body harness he needs in the car because he is not handicapped or in a wheelchair - so he doesn't need it (according to the social worker)."

Let me paint you a picture of why I believe (and seemingly everyone else but the social worker and you - the city) the V-Man needs this harness:

    Google searched image.
  •  This is what the taxi vehicle looks like - more or less.  It has the capability to carry approximately 5-7 children with a wheelchair (or two?) in the back.
  • As far as I know (compared to other countries), there is no assistant/responsible adult sitting in the back with the kids in case of emergency or disturbance.  It's only a single adult driving, securing and supervising each child on his own.
    • This may be standard all over Finland - but I am clarifying the entire situation as best as possible for those that may have questions.
  • While there are some extra measures that could be taken by the driver - such as extra seat belts - it appears that the V-Man can escape that too.  Not only that - but not every taxi has them.
I am baffled that my child doesn't qualify for a safety harness because I'm sure we can agree that one loose child (neurotypical or not) in any sized vehicle can cause a lot of serious damage .
  • If he can unbuckle his own seat belt - he can unbuckle other children's belts too.  And those children that are wheelchair bound or dependent on devices to strap them in securely and safely - will end up seriously hurt.
  • The V-Man is getting smarter by the day and thinks outside the box and I assure you that un-locking doors won't be hard after some practice.
    • He is fast and a very strong child - and he's only 6.  This will continue to intensify as he gets older.
  • What will the driver do if he is in a position where he cannot pull over safely - to secure my child again (repeatedly)?  Intersections, turns, small side streets or during traffic - even a regular open highway - is dangerous having a child run about.
I am not thrilled that my child is a safety hazard to others.  I am not proud of his brilliant mind for figuring out how to cause the drivers grief and stress of transporting him to and from school.  I am a bag of nerves every day with my phone in my pocket and volume on high in case I get a horrible phone call that an accident has occurred.
I've been incredibly grateful for the taxi services he has had in the past and am in a position where we cannot bring our child to the daycare/school ourselves.
It is a 45-minutes long bus ride and my husband works and I also study full time on the other side of town.  We do not have a vehicle and he is far too large to consider putting in a bicycle child's seat or trailer.
We also have two other children to transport to separate daycares (A-Man has a speech impediment and goes to a special needs daycare as well - again, other side of town and not the same direction as my school, my husband's office or M-Girl's daycare) - so as I've mentioned - we appreciate having the taxi service to begin with.

Now, this is where I'm genuinely upset and pissed off as a parent.
You are (clearly) willing to risk the lives of other children (along with my own and the driver!) by declining him a safety harness.
You've been sued in the past (within the last 2-3 years) by another family - we have a mutual therapist - who had the exact same situation as us.  A very active and clever child who got out of the seat belts and needed a tighter restraint in order to be transported to and from school.  A child with no understanding for safety of themselves or others travelling with them.
The mutual therapist got in touch with me quickly when I e-mailed her for help and told me that they had to get a note from the disability center's doctor and the hospital were the ones charged with the harness.  They got theirs within a week and from 0 help from the city.
This family sued the city over the rights of the safety of the child and won.  It cost the city more to lose a case than to provide the means of getting them a safety harness.

Here is the most interesting fact about their case:
Their child is not in a wheelchair.  Just like mine.

So I am highly curious, along with his teachers, my friends and hopefully a city council member (whom I'm reaching out to with this post via one of V-Man's lovely overnight care staff) as to where is the line drawn when it comes to a child's safety?

If my child isn't provided with a harness from the city, these are the scenarios I picture:
  • A fatal car crash - regardless of road conditions or visibility.  
  • Serious injury or death - of another person because they were unbuckled by my son and need to be properly secured upright.
I cannot describe the frustration that has been building up from the moment I received that disappointing phone call - to now, as I write this.
Your single message via the (city-based) social worker says this to me:
"We don't care.  We are above the law."

And to confirm this, I found via Infopankki's website:

"Finnish law states that a disabled person must not be discriminated against because of his or her disability. A disabled person has the right to live a normal life, for example, to study, work and start a family.

Municipalities are required to organise services for disabled persons who need them. These services include, for example, transport and assistant services. If you have a residence permit and a municipality of residence in Finland, you are entitled to the services that your municipality offers. Read more on the services for disabled persons and how to apply for them on the Infopankki page."

If you're wondering why we haven't purchased one ourselves - we are currently unable to.  My husband's contract ends at the end of the year and with no guarantee of an extension of any kind - we may have to return to Canada - and I'm sure we all know the kinds of airline prices we will be facing as a family of five and with two dogs - as well during the holiday season. 

Sincerely yours,
Dominique Riggs

PS I do have this other family contact information and will be in touch to see what procedures they had to go through entirely and the finer details of their case to see where lies the difference.
It may be that I strictly have to go through my child's special needs doctor - which is fine and dandy - happy to do it but it would be nice if the social worker reached out to me personally and addressed this issue and advised me what to do.

Update (April 9th, 2016): I've been in touch with the other family and that safety harness is 800€ - holy cow.


  1. Go Dominique. Keep at them, it is a safety issue, period! #fredsmom