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Finland: Universal services and financial benefits to promote the well-being of all children and families

Finland has one of the lowest child poverty rates in the EU, while the female employment rate is among the highest. This is largely thanks to strong state support for children and families. Family policy in Finlandpdf emphasizes reconciling paid employment with family life and ensuring an adequate level of income for families. Access to public day care is guaranteed to all children under seven and a generous system of family leave and allowances helps parents cope with their child-raising duties, while keeping their jobs secure. Services for children and families are based on the principle of preventive support.

Access to adequate resources

Support parents' participation in the labour market

Reconciliation of work and family life has long been a priority of Finnish family policy. At 68% in 2014, the overall female employment rate was well above the EU average of 59.6%. Female part-time employment was 20.2% compared to the EU average of 32.8% in 2014.

The employment rate of mothers with children under six years of age is however lower, in 2014 it was 60.2%. While the overall employment rate of men in Finland in 2014 was on EU average level 69.5%, fathers of young children have a much higher employment rate 89.8%.

A comprehensive leave system gives both parents a chance to reconcile paid work and childcare responsibilities. The maternity leave of 18 weeks, the parental leave of 26 weeks, and the paternity leave of about 9 weeks cover roughly the first year of a child's life. Benefits during maternity, paternity and parental leave are earnings-related, being 70–90% of previous annual earnings.

All children under seven years of age have a right to municipal day care. Parents are also entitled to paid childcare leave with an allowance after the end of parental leave if they do not use day care. This enables parents to look after a child under the age of three without giving up their jobs. In 2015 this basic childcare allowance was € 342.53 per month per one child and significantly lower for other children taken care of at home. Depending on the income level and the size of the family a supplement, up to a maximum of €183.31, is granted.

Working parents are entitled to work shorter hours from the end of the parental leave period until the end of the child’s second year of school. A‘flexible care allowance’ encourages parents of children under the age of three to combine part-time work with part-time care. An amount of €244.18 per month is paid to parents working a maximum of 22.5 hours per week or 60% of their normal full-time hours, and €162.78 to those working a maximum of 30 hours per week or 80% of their normal full-time hours. During the child’s first two years of school, parents can receive partial childcare allowance of €98.09 per month, if they work a maximum of 30 hours per week.

Provide for adequate living standards through a combination of benefits

Finland records the third lowest rate of children aged 0–17 at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU at 15,6% in 2014. At 3.4% of Finnish GDP in 2013, financial benefits for children and families represent a high share of government spending compared to the EU average of 2.4%. The largest proportion of benefits is accounted for by child allowances and day care.

Universal child allowances are available to children under 17. The monthly payment in 2015 ranges from €95,75 for a single child to €174,27 for the fifth and each subsequent child. Single parents receive a supplement of €48.55 for each child. The level of child allowance was tied to the national-pension index, but the index increments were frozen for years 2013–2015.

Access to affordable quality services

Reduce inequality at a young age by investing in early childhood education and care

All children under seven years of age have a right to municipal day care services. The monthly fee per child varies between €0 and €283 in 2015 depending on the family size and income. Pre-primary education for six-year-old children is free of charge. It reaches 96% of the age group.

Despite the availability of daycare, only 22% of children under the age of 3 were taken care of in full-time and 7% in part-time formal childcare in 2013. The respective shares of children aged 3 and above are 57% in full-time and 20% in part-time childcare in 2013. The total shares of children under the compulsory school-going age in formal childcare (29% of the under-threes, and 77% of those aged 3 and above) thus remain below the Barcelona Targets, but is higher than the EU average.

Improve education systems' impact on equal opportunities

One of the basic principles of Finnish education is that all people irrespective of ethnic origin, social background or economic status must have equal access to high-quality education and training.

In Finland everyone has the right to free basic education, including necessary equipment and text books, school transportation and meals. Post-compulsory education is also free: there are no tuition fees in general and vocational upper secondary education, in polytechnics or in universities.

Improve the responsiveness of health systems to address the needs of disadvantaged children

Primary health care services are provided by municipal health centres. During a child’s first year, 9 regular check-ups are scheduled at a children’s health clinic. This is followed by 6 check-ups until the child reaches school age. Since 2011, three of these appointments have to be extensive medical examinations organized in co-ordination with other professionals such as daycare centre personnel involved in the child’s and family’s life. The aim is to monitor and to promote the health of the child but also the well-being of the entire family.

On starting school, the regular check-ups continue as part of the school health care system. The check-ups at child health clinics and school health care as well as medical appointments with municipal health clinic GPs for children under the age of 18 are free of charge.

Provide children with a safe, adequate housing and living environment

The 2012–2015 housing policy action plan aims to increase housing production and improve the housing conditions of those in need of special support. To prevent housing costs from putting too much unnecessary strain on low-income households, Finnish housing policy promotes the availability of affordable housing. The objectives of the non-profit provisions concerning social housing are incorporated into law. Housing policy measures also strive for equal distribution of social and economic welfare between residential areas.

Enhance family support and the quality of alternative care settings

Children under 16 can be paid disability allowance if they have an illness or injury that creates a need for care and rehabilitation that lasts at least 6 months and imposes particular strain and requires a greater commitment than the care of non-disabled children of the same age.

Children's right to participate

Support the participation of all children in play, recreation, sport and cultural activities

Social assistance is a last-resort form of income security. It is usually granted for a month at a time, and it is based on the client's essential expenses. The basic social assistance is based Act on Social Assistance and adjusted annually by the national pension index. In 2015, the full basic amount was EUR 485.50. In addition to food, clothing, minor health care costs, hygiene, transport, newspaper, TV licence and use of telephone, the expenses to be covered by the basic amount also include adult’s and children’s hobbies and recreational pursuits.

Put in place mechanisms that promot children's participation in decision making that affects their lives

Since 2014, all comprehensive schools in Finland have statutory pupils’ board. The aim is to increase children’s participation in decision making at schools.

Conclusion

The future challenges of child policy and children’s welfare in Finland are related to the continuing economic crisis and the need to implement austerity measures that affect also benefits and services for children and families. On the other hand, the government elected to power in 2015 aims at restructuring all services for children and families in order to create a more integrated system that can better meet the needs of children and their parents.

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

Together with schools, the NGO Allianssi has organised nine youth elections parallel with formal elections in Finland. The youth election is part of democracy education for children under 18.

The NGO Save the Children Finland has a programme aiming to promotes children’s equality, participation and positive development by helping children, especially those from low-income families, to attend school and pursue hobbies. The programme features study material aid for secondary school learners, hobby aid for under-18-year-olds and mentoring to bolster the study motivation of upper-secondary and 10th grade learners.