Rose-tinted view of 'Nordic' childcare based on misconceptions
OPINION:Deficiencies in the Swedish family model are so serious no one should try to copy it
URSULA KILKELLY and Dympna Devine present some misconceptions about the Swedish childcare model (Nordic childcare model best for economic and social wellbeing, Opinion and Analysis, June 9th).
As I was the Swedish presenter at the Iona Institute conference on women, home and work who indirectly started this debate, I feel I should respond. My interest in this area originates from working as a business consultant dealing with psychosocial issues.
The first misconception is “the Nordic model”. There is no Nordic model in childcare. There is a Norwegian and a Finnish model offering a choice of daycare or a homecare allowance, and there is the Swedish model offering only daycare with no national homecare allowance.
The second misconception is that all Swedish mothers want to work and use daycare for their small children. This is not true. Numerous studies show a majority of Swedish people and parents, including young mothers, want the option of homecare available.
Even though the Government has focused intensely on gender equality (so that women should be in paid employment as much as men, whether they want to or not) and daycare for the last 35 years, there is still a majority who want the homecare option.
In Sweden, homecare is made difficult through the highly subsidised daycare system financed by one of the world’s highest tax rates, while there is no national support for homecare and only a small local allowance in one-third of its municipalities. This strong injustice is what has fuelled the Swedish family movement for 30 years.
This leads us to the third erroneous assumption – about good child developmental outcomes. In fact psychological health among Swedish youth is deteriorating at a faster rate than 11 comparable European states, according to two Swedish government reports. This includes psychosomatic disorders and mild psychological problems.
Swedish school results have gone from a top position 35 years ago to a mere average position today. Classrooms are riddled with behavioural problems to a higher degree than almost every other European country.
Modern developmental psychology and attachment theory make a strong connection between these outcomes and too much separation between child and family in the early years.
The fourth erroneous assumption is the quality of state childcare. Sweden had a high quality of childcare in the 1980s , but after the financial crises in the 1990s, quality deteriorated and has not improved.
Three Swedish experts recently wrote that Swedish daycare for the under-threes is no longer of high quality. In fact the quality is so low, some vulnerable children will be developmentally impaired.
In addition, women’s outcomes have suffered. The Swedish medical journal, Läkartidningen, published a study in 2005 with the title Who can work until 65 years of age – not the women, half of them leave their working life early. The study was conducted on the first generation of Swedish women who were pushed by family policies to combine work and being mothers.
In addition, parental abilities are declining in Sweden. An EU-sponsored study showed even well-to-do middle-class families in Sweden lack some basic parental abilities. It concludes parents seem to have delegated child- rearing to daycare and schools.
There are two lessons from the Swedish experiment: firstly, virtually forcing mothers to go against their desires on childcare will make them unhappy and sometimes affect their health; and secondly, too much early separation between child and family for the first three to five years is detrimental to outcomes.
Instead of the failed Swedish model, one should look at Finland, and note it has a homecare option, and its parents use before- and after-school care much less than in Sweden.
The deficiencies in the Swedish family model are so serious that no one should attempt to copy them without a deep multidisciplinary understanding of its problematic outcomes.
Jonas Himmelstrand is the founder the Mireja Institute, which is based in Uppsala in Sweden. Further information mireja.org