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Daycare centres may charge parents even during the summer break

As summer approaches, the smallest members of the family are also looking forward to a holiday--but parents should take care to notify daycare centres about absences if they want to avoid unnecessary fees. Municipalities differ in their handling of daycare services, with some parents paying even if their child never sets foot in a daycare centre over the summer.

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Daycare policies are wildly different from one to another. Image: Sari Törmikoski / Yle

Municipal daycare fee collection practices differ greatly from place to place, recent comparisons show.

In some municipalities parents have to pay daycare fees even if their child takes a long break from attending a daycare centre, for instance over the summer months. Still others compensate parents for all absences or make it possible to terminate their daycare agreements for the summer months.

A new early childhood education customer charging law came into effect in March, entailing a municipality's right to collect a fine for a child's unannounced absence. If parents reserve a daycare centre slot for their holidays and do not use it, the unused spot could end up costing parents half of a full monthly fee, in addition to receiving a fine.

Even among low-income families who don't pay fees, unused slots can still be the basis of a fine half the size of the smallest monthly fee. At least Helsinki, Joensuu and Kotka say they are going to make use of the right.

"We'll test it out and see if it has any impact," says Joensuu regional daycare chief Tuula Pikkarainen.

Jyväskylä and Rovaniemi best bets

A fine proposal was investigated in the city of Jyväskylä, but it was found to be unsustainable in terms of oversight.

"We could not come up with a fair way to ascertain whether a daycare slot had gone unused on purpose," local service chief Tarja Ahlqvist says.

Jyväskylä is liberal in its attitudes in other ways, too. The city has long compensated families for full-day holiday season absences announced in advance.

"We don't even require children to participate for entire weeks. Compensation is paid out for every day that parents organise their own child's care themselves," Ahlqvist says.

The practice makes it possible to sensibly utilise human resources, because only on-call units are open.

"It's one of those win-win situations," says Ahlqvist. "It increases productivity when employees take vacations in the summer and work during peak seasons. Families also commonly make use of the compensation offered."

Rovaniemi daycare centres do not require fees for absences, if parents notify care providers in advance. The compensation system has been in operation for three years.

"Our first try was to waive the fee if a child is away for a full calendar month," says service boss Tarja Kuoksa from Rovaniemi's early childhood education unit. "This current way is better, as parents may not have holidays that begin at the very start of any given month."

The benefits of Rovaniemi's centralising move have been notable. Last summer seven of the city's 23 daycare centres were open. Groups of children were combined for efficiency, leading to savings in salaries and in food services.

Summer slots on ice

Finland's daycare fee systems from one municipality to another are diverse to say the least. Some things will not change, however.

"No changes are likely to these complicated payment practices," says early childhood education specialist Sirkka-Liisa Ihalainen from the University of Helsinki. "I don't think anyone is thinking about changing the current care fee standards."

Municipalities mostly do not charge parents for July if their child has been coming to daycare for the whole season. The non-payment is part of a system that gives children short vacations throughout the year. Compensation is paid out for these holidays once a year.

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