Finnish NGOs: Position on Family leave reform in Finland

21.4.2017

Family and Child Welfare Organizations have argued for a lengthening of paid parental leave, more flexibility, and increasing fathers’ share of the paid leave. The majority of recent suggestions accord with these goals. The main target in the development of family leaves, however, must be the wellbeing of families and children.

The growing demand to reform the Finnish family leave system illustrates the need to meet the changing requirements of families and working life. New models for family leaves have subsequently been presented by several labour market organizations and political parties. Family and Child Welfare Organizations have argued for a lengthening of paid parental leave, more flexibility, and increasing fathers’ share of the paid leave. The majority of recent suggestions accord with these goals. The main target in the development of family leaves, however, must be the wellbeing of families and children. Suggestions to cut the duration of the extended parental leave, or to cut the income compensation level are not acceptable. Increasing the flexibility of extended parental leave (home care leave) is one possibility to support participation in early childhood education.

Family leaves comprise parental leaves (maternity, paternity and parental leaves) and home care leave, as well as various benefits paid during the leaves. Care arrangements for small children also include different forms of early childhood education and care outside families. Family leaves and early childhood education have three goals:

* to guarantee the right of new-born babies and small children to family, good care and education

* to promote the reconciliation of work and family life for parents according to their needs

* to increase equality between men and women, both in family life and working life

The wellbeing of the child is the key principle that should guide policy reforms. Early childhood is particularly important for later development and success in life. A sufficiently long family leave guarantees that a child receives secure and good-quality care, and supports the development of the child-parent relationship. Good-quality childhood education services further support a child’s development. During a child’s first years, care must be able to ensure security, stability, love and stimulation. NGOs stress that the needs of families and children are individual and varying. For some children, a longer home-based care is more suitable, and for others, an earlier start at early childhood education may be more beneficial.

It is important that the development of family leaves does not increase inequality between families in how they can use the leaves. Family leaves must be guaranteed to all families and parents, irrespective of their work situation. Temporary contract, self-employment or unemployment can prevent families from using or sharing the leaves as they wish. Different family types must be recognized in defining the right for family leaves. Single-parent families should be entitled to the same amount of paid parental leave as two-parent families.

A crucial failing in Finland is the low level of minimum parental benefit. The rate is currently €23.73 euros per weekday, which works out at approximately €140 per week. The EC Committee of Social Rights has stated that the level of minimum parental benefit in Finland does not reach the level recommended by the European Social Charter. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for Finland to improve the support for low-income families, and to guarantee a sufficient standard of living for all children.

Finnish parents want to increase flexibility in their working life, and to improve the reconciliation of work and family (Väestöliitto Family Barometers 2010 and 2014). Two in every five young childless adult postpones childbearing because of difficulties in combining work and care of small children (Väestöliitto Family Barometer 2015). A smooth reconciliation between family life, studies and work requires flexibility in leave periods, and both the possibility of more flexible use of part-time leave and of using a portion of the leave later on. Other persons besides the main carer of the child or the parent should be allowed to use family leaves, for example, grandparents or other close persons. NGOs consider it very important that Finnish employers provide family leaves to those employees who participate in the care of grandchildren or children of siblings.

Home care leave (extended parental leave) has been very popular in Finland, and most families have preferred to take care of their children at home until the child is around 1.5-2 years old. Changing the payment system of benefits received during the leave (Home Care Allowance), so that it diminishes according to the age of the child is one possible adjustment suggested. Combining part-time work and part-time home care is poorly developed in Finland. The availability of part-time home care allowance, and the possibility to use it, could be increased by improving opportunities for part-time work at work places, and adjusting children’s day care fees according to the actual time spent at day care.

A more equal sharing of family leaves between fathers and mothers increases gender equality in childcare. Increasing fathers’ participation in childcare can be best attained by increasing the father’s quota of paid parental leaves. However, this cannot be done by diminishing the share of the leave period which can be freely divided between parents as suggested in some family leave models. Mothers’ re-entry into the labour market can be encouraged by providing support and training to those mothers who do not have stable employment. Not all fathers use their leave periods; therefore, cutting the duration of the total leave increases inequality between families in how they can use family leaves.

The availability and affordability of early childhood education and care services are central to the reconciliation of work and family life. Recently, the quality and availability of early childhood education has not received much attention. Stable and sufficiently small groups of children, a trained and committed staff with enough constancy, and good co-operation with parents are central elements in the quality of day care and early childhood education. The quality of day care has declined in recent years. This is due to increased group sizes and restrictions to 20 hours a week of entitlement to early childhood education; the consequence is deteriorated circumstances of children and their families. In addition, the decline in quality prevents a smooth reconciliation between work, studies and family. Changes in the home care leave scheme will affect the demand for day care and early childhood education services. If the duration of home care leave is shortened, the demand for day care will increase, resulting in a need for more public resources to maintain a sufficient quality of care. Services and help provided at home, such as home assistance for families with small children, are also important means to support families in their everyday lives.

 

Family and Child Wellbeing Organizations demand, that

  • the wellbeing of the child is the key principle in the development of family leaves. Individual needs of the children and families must be recognized. Special attention is paid to equality between different families.
  • the paid parental leave period is increased, so that the child is 18 months old when the leave period ends. Father’s quota is increased without diminishing the leave periods currently available to the mother or for parents to share freely.
  • family leaves are principally equally divided between parents. A parent can transfer a part of his/her leave period to the other parent except for the portion which is assigned to each parent. A parent can also transfer a part of the leave period to another person (grandparent, other persons) taking care of the child.
  • the level of the minimum parental benefit is increased.
  • home care allowance diminishes according to the age of the child.
  • the availability and quality of the early childhood education and care is guaranteed by restricting the group size to match the age and developmental needs of the children, and ensuring sufficiently trained and permanent staff at the day care and education centres.

 

Helsinki 21.4.2017

 

Managing Director Eija Koivuranta, Väestöliitto ry (The Family Federation of Finland)

Executive Director Riitta Särkelä, Ensi-ja turvakotien liitto ry (The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters)

Executive Director Kai Laitinen, Erityishuoltojärjestöjen liitto EHJÄ ry (The Federation of Special Welfare Organisations)

Executive Director Hanna Heinonen, Lastensuojelun Keskusliitto ry (Central Union for Child Welfare)

Pääsihteeri Milla Kalliomaa, Mannerheimin Lastensuojeluliitto ry (Mannerheim League for Child Welfare)

Project Manager Anna Moring, Monimuotoiset perheet –verkosto

Pääsihteeri Arja Sutela, Nuorten ystävät ry

Pääsihteeri Hanna Markkula-Kivisilta, Pelastakaa lapset ry (Save the Children)

Executive Director Jari Ketola, Pesäpuu ry

Executive Director Ulla Siimes, Suomen Vanhempainliitto ry (Finnish Parents’ League)

Executive Director Pauliina Lampinen, Vammaisten lasten ja nuorten tukisäätiö