Shadow World

Varjomaailma, or Shadow World in English, is the first and only online service in Finland targeted at young people aged 12 through 18 who suffer from parental substance use. Shadow World provides online information, support and means to break the silence anonymously. It started as a comic book campaign for 11-12-year-old children in 2008, and has since evolved into a multifaceted online service that has over 3500 registered users.
With an innovative combination of information and communication technology, social media, and traditional applications of child protection social work translated into an online environment, Shadow World has the ability to reach the target group directly, penetrate the curtain of shame and silence and bypass parents who may deny the problem altogether.


According to a 2011 survey conducted by the A-Clinic Foundation’s Fragile Childhood program, under which the Shadow World online service operates, one in four children between the ages of 12–18 has suffered from their parents’ drinking at some point in their lives. The main harms, as stated by the children themselves, were fights between family members, shame over parents’ behavior, and anxiety.
Shadow World is not targeted solely at children of alcoholics or other addicts. We are concerned with the child’s own perspective and experience, not the amount of drink the parent is consuming.





Shadow World offers five different ways in which its visitors and registered members can find help in their difficult situation:
1. A blog that offers up to date information on topics related to the target groups’ reality.  
2. A “Where Can I Get Help From?” directory, which helps the child to identify a trustworthy adult in his/her life and offers a listing of dozens of phone numbers, links and other services they may contact.
3. A printable checklist that the child may fill out and bring along to a doctor’s appointment or a school counselor’s office, if he/she finds it difficult to verbalize the situation.
4. An anonymous online consultation service that offers professional answers to all kinds of questions related to substance misuse in the family. Professionals include social workers, nurses and other experts in the field.
5. The most active section of Shadow World is its message board, which has closed, anonymous, three-month-long peer groups that are counseled by child protection professionals. The main objective of these groups is to help and support children who suffer from parental substance use and offer them peer experiences in matters that are typically kept a secret. There have been twentytwo groups so far, and over 130 individual participants. The results have been fascinating, as many children have reported an increase in self-esteem and a newfound courage to talk about their situation to outsiders.
The counselors work in three different ways: First, they create a safe, confidential environment by setting clear rules. Second, they assess each child’s individual situation through discussion and different methods/exercises that are adapted from the Finnish child protection services. After distinguishing each group member’s situation, they offer tailored service guidance and, if need be, contact face to face services and authorities on behalf of the child. 

By Whom?


The development of the Shadow World concept continues within the A-Clinic Foundation’s Fragile Childhood program which began in 1986 and has been established as a well-known form of activity in Finland.

The program's goal is to raise awarness of the child's perspective on alcohol use in the family.



project manager Minna Ilva

development coordinator Janne Takala