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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. Child and 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 is designed to help 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.

High spending on family benefits

Finland records the lowest rate of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU at 14.9% in 2012. At 3.3% of Finnish GDP in 2011, financial benefits for children and families represent a high share of government spending compared to the EU average of 2.2%. The largest proportion of benefits is accounted for by child allowances and day care. Yet the level of spending on family benefits has dropped from 4% of GDP in 1995 and income transfers to families lag behind average salary increases.

Universal child allowances are available to children under 17. The monthly payment in 2013 ranges from €104.19 for a single child to €189.63 for the fifth and each subsequent child. Single parents receive a supplement of €48.55 for each child. In 2011, the level of child allowance was tied to the national-pension index, but as of January 2013, the index increments were frozen for years 2013–2015.

Long and generous parental leave scheme

A comprehensive leave system gives both parents a chance to care for their children. The maternity leave of 105 working days (about 18 weeks), the parental leave of 158 working days (about 26 weeks), and the paternity leave of 54 working days (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. Financial assistance is available also to unemployed parents. It amounts to a minimum of €23.77 per working day (about €594 per month in 2013).

Parents are also entitled to paid childcare leave after the end of parental leave if they decide not to use day care. This enables parents to look after a child under the age of three without giving up their jobs. In 2013 this basic childcare allowance was € 336.67 per child per month. Depending on the income level and the size of the family supplement, up to a maximum of €180.17, is granted.

In addition, 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. In September 2013, the government proposed a ‘flexible care allowance’ to encourage parents of children under the age of three to combine part-time work with part-time care. An amount of €240 would be paid to parents working a maximum of 3 days per week or 4.5 hours per day, and €160 to those working a maximum of 4 days per week or 6 hours per day. The reform is intended to take effect in 2014.

Universal and affordable daycare

Reconciliation of work and family life has long been a priority of Finnish family policy. Not only do most women work, they do so full-time. At 68.2% in 2012, the overall female employment rate was well above the EU average. Female part-time employment is 20.1% compared to the EU average of 32.5%.

All children under seven years of age have an unconditional right to municipal day care services. The monthly fee per child varies between €0–€264 in 2013 depending on the family size and income. Pre-primary education for six-year-old children is free of charge. It reaches 98% of the age group.

Despite the availability of daycare, only 20% of children under the age of 3 are taken care of in full-time and 6% in part-time formal childcare. The respective shares of children aged 3 and above are 57% in full-time and 20% in part-time childcare. The total shares of children under the compulsory school-going age in formal childcare (26% of the under-threes, and 77% of those aged 3 and above) thus remain below the Barcelona Targets.

Free health care for all 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.

Developing services across sector boundaries

Since 2008, the national programme ‘Lasten Kaste’ (‘Children’s Kaste’) has aimed to develop social welfare and health care services for children, adolescents and families. The second phase of the programme for years 2012–2015 continues this work. The service reform is pursued at the level of universal basic services to enable support to be offered as early as possible. The programme projects aim to prevent and correct problems across sector boundaries. The three strategic spearheads of the programme are:

  • bringing the services for children under school age at family centres 
  • improving services for school children and students under the umbrella of pupil and student social services
  • shifting the focus of child welfare to non-institutional measures and family care.

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.

Youth Guarantee

The Finnish government has agreed a ‘Youth Guarantee’, taking effect from January 2013, which will receive €60 million yearly. The youth guarantee will offer everyone under the age of 25, as well as recent graduates under the age of 30 an employment, a study place, a place in an on-the-job training or in a rehabilitation within three months after becoming unemployed. The intention is to ensure that young people have access to education, training and employment and to prevent them from being excluded from the society. The cross-administrative guarantee includes various elements: a guarantee of employment, educational guarantee, a young adults’ skills programme, a youth workshop, and outreach youth work.

The Finnish Children’s Parliament and Youth Councils

Child and youth participation in Finlandpdf takes place in various formal structures.

The Finnish Children’s Parliament includes 9 to 13 year old representatives appointed by municipalities. It is a continuation of local children’s parliaments or school councils, and it mainly functions as a web-based net parliament. It promotes children’s participation and opportunities to exert influence but also allows for authorities and policy-makers to discuss various issues with children directly.

Youth councils are municipal organs which include 13 to 18 year old representatives. They represent local youth in municipal decision-making and promote dialogue between young people and policy-makers. The councils are represented at the national level by the Representatives of Finland’s Youth Councils which enables young people to be involved in the preparation of national policy-making.