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Estonia: increase in family benefits and focus on implementing evidence-based practices

Estonia´s child and family policy focuses on five objectives which derive from the Strategy of Children and Families 2012–2020:  positive parenting, child 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 life of children and families in order to encourage higher birth rates.
Estonia has a universal family benefits system and generous parental leave policy. However, there is a need to provide more support to those who have less resources and to decrease parents ability to reconcile work and family life.

Reducing child poverty is one of the government`s priorities resulting in the increase of universal child benefit and means tested family benefit. As there is a shortage of ECEC places for young children, emphasis is put into establishing new nursery and kindergarten places. Estonia continues enhancing cross-sectorial co-operation and development of the child protection system. The implementation of evidence-based programs and developing the supportive services for children’s mental health, are also in focus.

Access to adequate resources

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 aged under two. In 2013, the employment rate for women was 65.7%, compared to 71.4% 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 90% in 2013, only around 51% 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 the period of 435 days at parent’s average monthly income (100%) of a 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 14.2% of Estonian women and 6.2% of men work part-time (Eurostat 2013).

Providing for adequate living standards through a combination of benefits

Spending on social protection benefits for families has gradually but constantly increased reaching to EU average in 2010 (2.3% of GDP). In 2012 the spending on social protection benefits for families decreased to 1.8% of GDP, compared with 2.2% the EU average. The social transfers are quite effective, as (based on the Eurostat data on the risk of poverty before and after social transfers), they (incl. pensions) reduced child poverty by 12% in 2013. The relative child (0-17 y) poverty has increased, being in 2013 18.1% (compared to 17% in 2011) but at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion remained approximately the same level, being 22.3% in 2013 (compared to 22.4% in 2012) (EU average was 27.6% in 2013).

Estonia has a universal family benefits system where more support is provided to families with young and with many children. According to the State Family Benefits Act, from 1 January 2015, the child allowance for the first and second child of a family will be raised to 45 euros per month (in 2014, 19.18 euros) and to 100 euros per month for third and every consecutive child (in 2014, 76.72 euros). Also, means tested family benefit for families with children who live in relative poverty will be increased starting from 1 January 2015 – for families with one child up to 45 euros (in 2014 9,59) and for families with two or more children up to 90 euro (in 2014 19,18 euros).  In order to support the families in the biggest need subsistence benefit for families with children will also be increased newt year.

Access to affordable quality services

The provision of childcare does still not meet the need. In 2012, 18% of children under three were enrolled in formal childcare, which was mainly provided by local authorities. For the age group of three to six, in 2012 the enrolment rate was 93% 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 new Pre-school Child Care Institutions Act is being drafted and the system of ECEC revised. With the help of European Structural Funds 2014-2020 new ECEC places will be established.

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. Maximum grant for a family with 4 to 7 children has increased, ranging to  7000 euros and for a family with 8 or more children to  14,000 euros.

Focus on evidence-based practices

Estonia has taken focus on evidence-based practices. In order to reduce school bullying, Estonia is implementing an evidence-based bullying prevention programme KiVa. Also, preparations are being made to implement a positive parenting programme Incredible Years in order to give parents help and support in subjects related to children’s behaviour, emotional problems and development issues. For children with behavioural difficulties, juvenile offenders and their parents Estonia the Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is being piloted.

In 2013, a long-term rehabilitation service for children aged 12-17 with severe and profound mental disorder was developed. The rehabilitation service includes integrated social, health and educational services, taking into account the needs of the child and also supporting the development of the child in a safe environment, the acquisition of education and preparation to successfully cope in adulthood. In 2014, a concept of alternate care is being prepared. It is essential that the alternate care corresponds to the needs of child, in order to achieve that, the concept develops effective solutions to restructure the current alternate care system, changes the financing principles and to create support services.

Children’s right to participate

One of the underlying principles in Estonian legislation is that every decision needs to be done based on the child's best interest 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 Ombudsman for Children was established. In recent years there are 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, Child Protection Act, etc.) are worked out in cooperation with children and their representative organizations. 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 of decision making process.

The new Child Protection Act which enters into force on 1st of January 2016 also puts emphasis on child 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, justice.

In order to increase children participation and inclusion in individual as well as in societal level, media campaigns have been carried out and instructional materials composed. Within the framework of Youth Field Development Plan for 2014-2020, young people’s active participation in community and decision making is being strongly supported.

Outlook

The on-going developments in Estonian family policy support the Recommendation as tackling child poverty and putting emphasis on early intervention. Future challenges are related to meeting the need of child care places and scaling up the services and evidence-based programmes that are being developed and piloted.

In 2011 web-constables project was established. Web-constables are police officers working over internet. They respond to notifications and letters submitted by people via internet and train children as well as adults on issues of internet security. People can contact the web-constables through their police e-mails, Facebook accounts, different social networks and forums. Some issues are solved by advising only, but there are also such notifications that are forwarded for information or proceeding to relevant police stations.

Web-constables can be addressed if people:

  • wish any advice from the Police;
  • have questions related to law;
  • wish to send a hint or information to the Police;
  • suspect that someone is operating under his/her name in internet;
  • have fallen a victim to teasing/abuse;
  • wish to notify about sexual or other abuse.

Web-constables are especially necessary for children (82% of Estonian children use the internet daily) as they are easy to communicate with and are visible in the forums that children use. Also, web-constables receive a lot of information related to cyber bullying, possible paedophilia cases and pages containing child pornography.

The web-constables project has been nominated as a good practice by the European Crime Prevention Network.

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2015.

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.