Estonia´s child and family policy focuses on five objectives which derive from the Strategy of Children and Families 2012–2020: positive parenting, children’s rights, child protection, adequate income support, and reconciliation of work, family and private life. The main purpose of the strategy is to improve the well-being and quality of the life of children and families in order to encourage higher birth rates.
Estonia has a universal family benefits system and a generous parental leave policy. However, there is a need to provide more support to those who have fewer resources and to increase parents’ ability to reconcile work and family life. In 2013, to meet this end, different family benefits were increased and a new means tested family benefit was introduced. One of the main issues is reforming the child protection system.
Estonian women participate actively in the labour market, but there are still problems in reconciling work and family life, especially for parents who have a child or children under two years. In 2012, the employment rate for women was 69.3%, compared to 75.2% for men (Eurostat).
Women with small children work considerably less than men: while the employment rate of fathers aged 15-64 who have at least one child under the age of six was 89.1% in 2012, only around 53% of the mothers who have at least one child in this age group were employed (Eurostat). One of the reasons here is that Estonia has a generous parental leave policy: parental benefit is paid for a total of 435 days at parents’ average monthly income (100%) of the previous calendar year. Parents are also eligible for home care leave until the child reaches three years of age, with the entitlement to return to the same post.
At the same time part-time work is not widespread. Only 14.9% of Estonian women and 5.8% of men work part-time (Eurostat 2012).
Spending on social protection benefits for families has gradually but constantly increased, being at 2% of GDP, slightly less than the EU average of 2.2% (Eurostat data for 2011). The social transfers are quite effective, as (based on the Eurostat data on the risk of poverty before and after social transfers): (including pensions) they reduced child poverty by 14.4%in 2012. The relative child poverty (0-17 years) has decreased to 17% in 2012 compared with 19.5% in 2010. This was consistent with a decline in the population (aged 18 or less) at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion from 24.8% in 2011 to 22.4% in 2012.
Estonia has a universal family benefits system where more support is provided to families with young and with many children. From 1 July 2013, child benefit for the third and subsequent child was increased to €76.72 and from 2015 to €95.90 per month. Also, childbirth allowance for triplets and greater multiple births increased for every child from €320 to €1000 from the 1 July, 2013. In addition to universal benefits there is now a new means tested family benefit for families with children who live in relative poverty. Since 1 July 2013 families with one child receive €9.59 and this will increase to €19.18 in 2015; families with two or more children receive €19.18 and from 2015 will receive €38.36. The means tested benefit is paid in addition to universal child benefit. In 2013 paternity leave benefit was restored and child leave benefit was increased.
The provision of childcare is one of the most pressing issues in Estonia. In 2011, 19% of children under three were enrolled in formal childcare, which was mainly provided by local authorities. In 2011 the enrolment rate for those aged 3-6 was 92% compared to 88% in 2008. The greatest shortfall in childcare provision is for children between the ages of 18 months (when parental benefit ends) and 3 years. In order to resolve the problem a new Pre-school Child Care Institutions Act is being drafted and the system of ECEC is being revised. At the beginning of 2014, recommendations will be given to the Government in the green paper of family benefits and services on how to develop the system in order to decrease child poverty and promote families’ well-being. The green paper is based on two thorough studies conducted in 2013. The provision of child care places is also planned to be supported through the European Structural Funds 2014-2020.
One of the good practices/measures in supporting families in need is the national home benefit for large families. The purpose of the benefit is to improve and update the living conditions of families with four or more children. Different activities are supported: renovation, reconstruction, extension, acquisition, reimbursement of the housing loan (except interest payment) etc. The maximum grant for a family with 4 to 7 children is €6,500 and for a family with 8 or more children is €13,000.
One of the underlying principles in Estonian legislation is that every decision needs to be done based on the child's best interests and there is a need to always take the child's opinion into account (also depending on the child`s level of development). In 2011 the institution of the Ombudsman for Children was established. In recent years there were different developments in promoting children’s participation in decision-making. Many of the national strategies and legislation (e.g. Strategy of Children and Families 2012-2020 and Child Protection Act) are worked out in cooperation with children and their representative organisations. Once a year a youth forum “101 children to Toompea” is held which is an event in Estonian Parliament where children can express their views and take part in the decision-making process.
The new Child Protection Act which will be presented to the Government at the end of 2013 also puts emphasis on children’s rights. In addition to different principles the act provides a legal basis for national child welfare agency. The agency would combine responsibilities from different areas and ministries: social, mental health, education and justice.
In 2012, the first monitoring of the rights of the child and parenting was carried out on the initiative of the Ombudsman for Children and the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia. The objective of the monitoring was to find out society’s awareness of issues related to the rights of the child and to analyse attitudes and problems concerning the issues of raising children and parenting, considering the opinions of both children and parents.
The on-going developments in Estonian family policy support the Recommendation as they focus on tackling child poverty and putting emphasis on early intervention. The biggest challenge still centres on the provision of different services, especially for those families who face multiple disadvantages. Also more (financial) support is needed for those who have less resources.
The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.
Estonia is developing an innovative child protection system. Current child protection is organised on three levels: local, county (to a lesser extent) and state level. Local governments have the main responsibility of providing assistance. Currently, there is no complete and cross-sectorial system in Estonia for promoting the well-being of children, at the same time there are different and often connected risk factors influencing the problems of children. The situation is further complicated by the fragmentation of services offered by different authorities and the small-scale co-ordination of the services. Now a new national child welfare agency is being established. According to the plan the agency will cover areas from different ministries that effect children and youth – child protection and welfare, mental health, educational counselling and legal protection (juvenile delinquency). The aim of the activity is to establish a cross-sectorial child protection management and coordination system that would also provide some services and evidence-based programmes (e.g. parenting programme) at the regional level. Parallel to the agency, child mental health centres with regional units will be established. All of the activities are supported by the EEA financial mechanism and the state budget, the “Children and Youth at Risk programme” was approved in the beginning of 2013.