An Yle investigation has found that out of Finland’s 10 largest cities, municipalities in the capital region pay parents a significantly higher child home care allowance supplement than others. The public welfare watchdog THL says it is concerned that the inconsistent practice could increase inequality among young children.
Parents can apply for the government’s child home care allowance for children under the age of three who are cared for at home. The municipal supplement is an extra discretionary payment that some municipalities offer to parents who meet the requirements for the additional support.
According to the Yle investigation, half of the country’s ten largest municipalities pay the optional benefit, while the other half doesn’t. Tampere was the only large city that does not currently pay the child home care supplement. However other major urban centres such as Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Oulu pay residents an extra benefit for taking care of toddlers at home.
Tampere quits supplement system
In the case of Tampere, municipal leaders decided in autumn 2013 that they would terminate the extra benefit.
Tampere city director of wellbeing services Taru Kuosmanen said that the 2013 decision was driven by two issues. On the one hand, the city could not clearly show that the supplement as well as the state’s child home care allowance offered a real alternative to day care. On the other, the city’s financial situation at the time forced measures to cut back on spending.
Yle’s investigation revealed that Helsinki pays out the biggest child home care supplement, at least in the early stages. However the amounts paid are not directly comparable, since the prerequisites for receiving the extra benefit vary from one municipality to another.
For example, Vantaa only pays the supplement for children under the age of 18 months. In neighbouring Espoo, families caring for infants at home can receive an extra 200 euros until their kids are three years old.
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In Helsinki, the supplement declines with age to reach 134.55 euros in the year children turn three. During a child’s early months however, the bonus is 264 euros.
The municipal supplement was introduced in many cities in the 1990s in a bid to provide families with more child care options, explained Pia Pakarinen, Helsinki’s deputy mayor responsible for education and training.
“Of course now we are waiting to see what will happen with [upcoming] national parental leave reform. It now seems that it won’t be much. So we are back at square one,” she added.
THL: Supplement suggests shortage of daycare places
According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, the fact that some of the country’s largest cities are ready to pay out a bonus on top of the government’s child home care allowance suggests that there is a shortage of daycare places in big municipalities.
“They are using the supplement to try and manage the number of children who will queue for daycare. They will get children to stay at home longer,” observed THL research chief Johanna Lammi-Taskula.
“The municipal supplement sends a clear message that cities home children will be cared for at home a bit longer,” she added.
Lammi-Taskula is a member of a joint Childcare research project involving the universities of Jyväskylä and Tampere. The initiative looks at issues such as child care allowances from the perspective of equality and uniformity.
Inequality could have lasting impact
Lammi-Taskula said that the current system of municipal supplements could create inequality among children in different parts of the country.
She said that inequality could arise not only because some cities pay the benefit while others don’t, but also because the prerequisites for receiving the benefit vary.
Some municipalities may require other children who have already reached the age of three to be cared for at home so that the family may receive the support. She dubbed the requirement unfair and called for it to be abandoned.
“If it means that [a child’s] older siblings don’t get access to early years education because of that, then it could have the effect of creating inequality,” Lammi-Taskula explained.
“That’s where the mechanism of inequality kicks in and it can have an impact on school later on as well as through life,” she noted.
“We must always be worried about things that could increase inequality,” Lammi-Taskula responded when asked whether the THL is concerned about the situation.