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Denmark: Creating proactive policies supporting vulnerable children and their families

The Danish welfare state pursues equal opportunities for all citizens through a number of services and benefits. The Danish family policy is designed in such a way that it prioritizes the principle of a ‘dual-earner’ family and the system thereby supports equal rights between women and men. Besides investing in universal services and benefits, most sectors aim at promoting targeted measures to ensure adequate living conditions for all, e.g. social housing, equality in health policies, prevention of abuse etc.

Access to adequate resources

Support for parents’ participation in the labour market

The Danish parental leave system is among the most generous and flexible in the EU. Mothers are entitled to 4 weeks of maternity leave before the expected date of birth and 14 weeks of maternity leave after the birth. Fathers are entitled to 2 weeks of paternity leave within the first 14 weeks after the birth. Furthermore, each parent is entitled to 32 weeks of parental leave.

Parents can receive maternity leave benefits from the State for a maximum of 52 weeks per child if they meet the employment criteria set out in the Maternity Leave Act. 32 of the 52 weeks maternity leave benefits are reserved for parental leave and are shared between the parents. The total number of weeks with a right to parental leave exceeds the number of weeks with a right to leave benefits. This means, that parents can continue their parental leave beyond the 32 weeks benefit period is they so wish.

The level of maternity leave benefit is the same as unemployment insurance benefits. In 2015, the level of leave benefits is DKK 4.135 per week (€554).  Leave benefits for a total of 52 weeks amounts to DKK 215.020 (€28,817) in 2015. Unemployed parents maintain their social security benefit which may be at a lower level that maternity leave benefits during leave periods.

Employees may also have the right to pay during all or part of their leave periods. The right to pay from the employer is determined by collective agreements, individual contracts or workplace agreements. This is a cornerstone in the Danish Labor Market Model.

If the employee receives pay during leave periods, the employer will receive the leave benefit as a refund which reduces the expenses to pay during leave.

Employees are protected against dismissal during maternity, paternity or parental leave by a reverse burden of proof. This means, that a dismissal during the leave period is considered unlawful unless the employer can prove that the dismissal is unrelated to the leave. The same protection applies to employees who have announced their intention to use their right to maternity, paternity or parental leave.

Provide adequate living standards through a combination of benefits

Denmark spends a large proportion of the GDP on social protection benefits for children and families (4% in 2013) – the highest amount spent on support for families by any EU Member State.

Cash benefits include Family allowance paid for each child under the age of 18. It ranges from DKK 1,481 (€198) per month for children under the age of 3 to DKK 923 (€123) for children aged between 7 and 17. In case of multiple births, additional benefit amounts to DKK 2,208 (€296) per child, except the first, per quarter until the child’s seventh birthday. Some types of adoption also qualify for a single cash benefit of DKK 50,871 (€6,824).

An additional ordinary Child benefit can be paid to single parents. The ordinary Child benefit is DKK 1,339 per quarter for each child. As a supplement to the ordinary Child benefit, single parents who have the child living with him/her are paid an extra child benefit. Only one extra child benefit is payable irrespective of the number of children. The extra child benefit is DKK 1,365 per quarter (2015).

Access to affordable quality services

Denmark’s investments in the education system are one of the highest in the EU. A large part of this investment is spent on the early childhood education and care sector (ECEC) and the public primary and lower secondary school system (in Danish: “Folkeskolen”).

Guaranteeing equal access to quality learning and care environments

The Danish ECEC system is highly accessible and widely used by Danish parents. Respectively 89 % of children at the age of 1-2 years and 98 % of children at the age of 3-5 years are enrolled in ECEC in Denmark. The accessibility is secured by the guaranteed day care availability under the Day-Care Facilities Act, which obligates the municipalities to offer a full-time place in a day care for all children from the age of 26 weeks till school start. 

The parents’ payment is kept low by the municipalities since it must not exceed 25 % of the average gross operation cost for the specific type of day care in the municipality. To further ensure the accessibility for the disadvantaged children parents with an income below a certain limit may, in addition to the general subsidy for a place in a day-care facility, receive an extra subsidy from the local authority to reduce their own payment. Parents can be granted a subsidy of up to 100 pct. of their payment and can therefore eliminate the parental payment altogether. An essential objective of the Danish ECEC sector is to create additional high quality learning and care environment for all children, which is particularly favorable for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

New reform to reduce the significance of pupils’ social background

A reform to improve the standards in the public primary and lower secondary school system took effect from the start of the school year in August 2014. It has three principal objectives: 1) the public school system must challenge all students to reach their full potential, 2) the public school system must lower the significance of social background on academic results, and 3) trust in the school and student well-being must be enhanced through respect for professional knowledge and practice

The key elements in the reform are a longer and more varied school day, more lessons and improved quality teaching in e.g. Danish and Mathematics, a new concept of assisted learning, competence development of teachers and school principals, knowledge and capacity building, target setting and monitoring of progress.

The Preventive Measures Package: Early Support - Lifelong Effects

In 2014 the Danish Government introduced the Preventive Measures Package for the period 2014-2017. The package includes a wide range of initiatives to ensure early support for vulnerable children. The initiatives aim to strengthen the effort of helping children and young people who are growing up in disadvantaged families, at a much earlier stage.

As part of The Preventive Measures Package the Danish Parliament passed a bill in June 2014 which highlights the importance of early, preventive support. The legislation has been effective since October 2014. The amendment represents a substantial change of paragraph 11 in the Act on Social Services. Paragraph 11 is now an actual “prevention paragraph” which clarifies the municipalities’ obligations to take precautionary measures against neglect of children and young people.

Children's right to participate

The Danish State supported an Activity-green card project in 23 municipalities until the end of 2014 with DDK 80 million. The purpose of the project was to provide socially vulnerable children and young people, who do not participate in leisure-time activities, an opportunity to join different kinds of spare time occupations such as sports, music education, scout associations etc. The experiences from the project are now being implemented in several other municipalities with support from The Preventive Measures Package.

Conclusion

Denmark is a society where everyone has equal opportunities. Yet social, economic and health related challenges are still passed on from generation to generation. Initiatives aimed at the prevention of intergenerational cycles of poverty and social exclusion are an important step towards making a positive change for children and young people in Denmark. Therefore, the Government is working to ensure better living conditions for the most vulnerable people whilst creating effective equal opportunities for all children and young people.

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2016.

The Preventive Measures Package: Early Support - Lifelong Effects

The Preventive Measures Package consists of the following initiatives:
•    Strengthening the parental competences through preventive, family-oriented efforts.
•    Strategic partnerships between municipalities and volunteer organizations on preventive efforts towards disadvantaged children and young people.
•     Strengthening the early efforts towards disadvantaged children in day care.
•     Extend the municipalities’ use of leisure activities as a preventive effort towards disadvantaged children and young people.

Municipalities can apply for funding to test or implement these initiatives. Furthermore the National Board of Social Services has entered into an agreement with a number of municipalities to develop an innovative plan of action to strengthen the early and preventive effort made for children and young people.

Towards an Earlier, Preventive and More Effective Effort

The Danish Government together with the political parties behind the Rate Adjustment Pool (in Danish: “Satspuljen”) for 2016 allocated DKK 96 million for the period 2016-2019 to support the municipalities in restructuring their activities for disadvantaged children and young people towards an earlier, preventive, and more effective effort.