An innovative scheme in Denmark is combining the twin challenges of active ageing and childcare. Through the ‘Reserve Grandparent Scheme’, older people volunteer to care for sick children when their parents are at work. The scheme was discussed at a seminar organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 16 October for the members of the Expert Group on Demographic Issues.
Set up by the European Commission in June 2007, the Expert Group brings together representatives from all EU Member States, as well as a few independent experts. The Group’s role is to advise the Commission on the monitoring of demographic change and to serve as a platform for exchange of good practice in a range of areas including childcare, youth, children’s well-being and active ageing.
During the first part of the meeting, Mai Heide Ottosen from the Danish National Centre for Social Research and Anne Katrine Bertelsen from the Danish Ministry of Social Welfare outlined the key elements of the highly developed Danish childcare system and work-life balance policies. These include universal provision of childcare, flexible working hours, long and short-term parental leave schemes, and generous family benefits.
The success of these policies is reflected in high employment rates for mothers and fathers, a relatively high fertility rate and high satisfaction with family life. “Denmark ranks first in Europe for female participation in the labour force” stressed Mrs Ottosen, “while nearly 80% of all children under six are enrolled in formal childcare”. “In 2009, Danish children under three spent on average 6.6 hours per day in daycare” she added.
However, Danish parents are still faced with some challenges when it comes to childcare, presenters pointed out. For example, the opening hours of daycare facilities need to be better adjusted to parents’ working time and few immigrant families use formal childcare. A further problem is that although parents have the right to take one paid day off each time their child is ill, the illness usually lasts longer than a day, and parents often struggle to find a carer who would look after their children when they need to go back to work.
To address this issue, in 2008 the Ministry of Social Welfare invested €650,000 to fund seven local ‘Reserve Grandparent Schemes’ run by municipalities and NGOs that recruit retired older people to help working parents when their children are sick.
“Our goal is to use the potential of the growing number of elderly people to help families” said Helle Kristine Petersen, coordinator of the ‘Reserve Grandparent Scheme’ in the Gladsaxe municipality near Copenhagen, “but also to provide the elderly with an opportunity to make a contribution to society”. The ‘substitute grandparents’ are selected against strict selection criteria including a criminal record check and their physical condition. There is also a maximum ratio of five families registered within the scheme for each ‘grandparent’.
“In Gladsaxe the demand for substitute grandparents is much larger than the supply and our challenge is to recruit grandparents” noted Mrs Petersen. “Retired people today have busy and active lives and we need take into account their preferences in terms of days when they are available and the kind of families they want to volunteer for”, she added.
Finally, participants debated the effectiveness and benefits of such schemes and looked at the ways to motivate older people to care for children.