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6 ways new gov’t agenda seeks to help families with children

Children's Ombudsman Elina Pekkarinen says things look "very promising" for Finland's young families.

Neljä lasta tutkivat kännyköitään
The new cabinet plans to draw up a National Strategy for Children among other moves. Image: Jari Kovalainen / Yle

Finland's Ombudsman for Children Elina Pekkarinen says the tenets of Antti Rinne's government programme that affect families with young children look "very promising," as they promise to improve the levels of wellbeing in this segment of the population.

Rinne's five-party coalition's agenda looks as if it will improve the status of families, she says, differing substantially from the savings measures enforced by the previous government.

"They have taken a comprehensive stand on and hold of the implementation of children's rights by pledging to create a National Strategy for Children, for example," Pekkarinen comments.

The Ombudsman says she was consulted on several occasions by Rinne and other government negotiators while they were drawing up the agenda.

The following is a list of six government programme components that are forecast to improve the lives of children and families with young children over the next four years.

1. Smaller day care groups, cancellation of limitations

Former PM Juha Sipilä's coalition approved a change to the law in 2016 that limited subjective day care rights for families with an unemployed parent, for example. Rinne's government has made it clear that it will roll back this limitation and restore "the full-time subjective right to early childhood education". It has also indicated that it will reduce group sizes in day cares for children under the age of three.

Several municipalities, Helsinki and Tampere included, had earlier made the decision not to implement the 2016 reform. Associated plans in this area include a pilot providing early childhood education to two-year-olds, and expanding free part-time early childhood education to five-year-olds.

2. Child benefit increases for some

Rinne's government programme has also outlined 10-euro monthly child benefit increases for single-parent households and families with more than four children.

3. Family leave reform

One objective included in the incoming government's platform is to distribute child care responsibility better between both parents. Although several methods will be employed to promote this, a central change will be an effort to split any state-assisted child care leaves evenly between mothers and fathers.

At present, the approximately six-month parental leave that Finland pays to a parent caring for a new child at home is distributed unevenly: with mothers typically receiving 105 days (some four months) of compensation, while fathers typically are entitled to nine weeks (or just over two months) of leave. Fathers can elect to take part of this leave period consecutively with the mother.

The new government agenda seeks to lengthen the leave period fathers usually take without shortening mothers' leave periods. Sweden made a similar decision a few years ago.

The cabinet also promises to look into the possibility of child care allowances being paid to grandparents who take care of children.

4. Free upper secondary school, compulsory school age increased to 18

The new administration says it will raise the compulsory school age to 18 and make secondary-level education free of charge in order to make it available to every pupil who has finished the preceding level. Among other things, the changes are meant to dismantle thresholds that exclude members of families living in poverty by covering the cost of books and equipment, for instance.

Several new techniques will also be employed to improve access to upper secondary schools, including multiple forms of support, diversification of study methods, an extra "tenth year" for pupils that might need more support, as well as the expansion of the adult education centre network and other preparatory training options.

Rinne's government also indicated that it would like to copy "the Icelandic Model," which guarantees an extracurricular activity or sport for every young person as part of their school day.

5. Added resources for promoting young people's wellbeing

The new government programme aims to improve social services for young people in Finland by increasing child protection resources. The aim is to reduce the client-to-professional ratio in this area to 35 by the year 2022, and eventually reach a target ratio of 30 to 1.

Service improvements at maternity clinics, student services and preventative health care are also planned, and easing access to the child home care allowance was also made a priority.

6. Creating a National Strategy for Children

Children's Ombudsman Pekkarinen praises the new cabinet's commitment to draw up a National Strategy for Children in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Among other things, the strategy would contain information on budgeting for children, assessment of policy impacts on children, and ways support and services can be evaluated for their 'child and family friendliness'. Once the strategy is complete, municipalities, commerce and the third sector are expected to commit to it.

The incoming government's programme mentions the possibility of a number of financial constraints that could influence how many of its planned changes come to fruition. For example, the funding of additional initiatives is largely dependent on the coalition reaching its goal of 75 percent employment and continued growth of the economy.

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