The child in the eye of the storm - unveiling the war child syndrome

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    During WWII a total of 48,628 Finnish children were evacuated to Sweden and placed into temporary foster care. Previous studies have mainly focused on the long-term consequences on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. The results are ambiguous and there is not enough convincing evidence to conclude that the evacuation led to mental morbidity or increased the risk of mortality. However, it could be assumed that the early separation trauma had some consequences affecting the quality of life of the evacuees, and that it would be valuable to define this pattern of unspecific symptoms. The objective of this thesis was to analyze the effects of the evacuation on later-life outcomes such as educational attainment, social status, psychosocial wellbeing, mental health problems and substance abuse.

    The sample consisted of 887 evacuees and 1,748 non-evacuees and was collected from four different sources: the Finnish National Archives, the Population Register Central Finland, the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) and by a survey.

    The results show that becoming a war child was not random: the evacuees came from families with a lower socioeconomic status, which must be taken into account when estimating the effects of the evacuation. The atmosphere in most of the foster homes was good, and they were generally affluent. The return to Finland was difficult for many evacuees due to the loss of their mother tongue, Finnish. However, the quality of the atmosphere of the home of origin was a factor that cannot be ruled out when evaluating the consequences of the evacuation.

    The thesis further shows that evacuees had a higher rate of substance abuse and a lower sense of coherence (SOC), but did not have more problems related to psychosocial wellbeing or mental health than non-evacuees. However, problems related to experienced emotions such as loss of confidence, detachment and/or rootlessness, as well as unworthiness and/or rejection, were expressed.

    The results show that even long-term separation from one's parents during childhood must be understood as representing a developmental context that makes the emergence of problems either less likely or more likely, depending on other risk and protective factors.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationHelsinki
    Print ISBNs978-951-51-2379-4
    Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-2380-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2016
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

    Fields of Science

    • 516 Educational sciences
    • 515 Psychology

    Cite this