The impressive maternity care box offered by the Finland government to expecting families has been all over the news lately. Offered since 1938, Finnish maternity packages are a time-honored tradition in Finland. Initially, these boxes were only offered to low-income mothers — and then in 1949, the maternity packages were made available to all Finnish mothers. As noted by the BBC and others, the unique maternity package contains children’s clothes and other necessary items, such as bedding, cloth diapers, towels, baby care books, breastfeeding guides and many other child-care products, all packaged nicely in a box with a mattress that doubles as a sleeping cot. We love the idea of this maternity package. In fact, it’s probably one of the reasons Finland was recently ranked as the number one place in the world to be a mother. However, there’s much more to Finland’s success when it comes to family and child well-being than a simple maternity care box. In fact, Finland offers family benefits that folks in the United States can only dream of. Herein we delve deeper why Finland is so successful (beyond the box) when it comes to mother, baby and overall family care.
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Outstanding Benefits for Families
Finland doesn’t just offer a wonderful box of baby goodies to families. As noted by Save the Children, Finland offers strong systems across the board when it comes to all dimensions of maternal and child health and well-being. For example, when compared to the U.S., it’s clear that Finland is light years ahead due to the following benefits.
The maternity grant: As noted above, all expectant mothers and adoptive parents who live in Finland or who are covered by the Finnish social security system are entitled to receive the maternity grant, which is either the amazing maternity package or a tax-free lump sum of 140 euros. There are increased grants for parents of multiples. For example, if you’re having twins you are entitled to a total of three packages, or €420 and parents of triplets get six maternity packages or a combination of maternity packages and money. America has no such program.
Maternity leave: In Finland, women are allowed to start maternity leave 50 working days at the earliest and 30 working days at the latest before the estimated date of delivery. Women choose when to start maternity leave and the government pays a maternity allowance for 105 working days, or about 4 months. The maternity allowance, amazingly is offered to self-employed individuals, unemployed individuals and even students.
Paternity leave is encouraged: Paternity leave is offered for a maximum of 54 working days in Finland while laws in the U.S. barely cover and most certainly do not value paternity leave. There’s even a Finnish paternity allowance offered.
Parent leave pay: In the USA you’re extremely lucky if you receive decent maternity or paternity leave and paid leave is almost unheard of. In fact, the United States holds the distinction of being the one and only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave for parents of newborns. After maternity leave in Finland, you can take parental leave and receive parental allowance. Fathers can also take parental leave or parents may share the leave.
Valuing all families: In Finland adoptive parents and one of the partners in “rainbow families” (families with same-sex parents) are eligible for maternity leave and allowance and paternity allowance.
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The benefits don’t end in the baby years in Finland. Finnish mothers or fathers are allowed to stay at home to look after a child under 3 years of age and may receive a child home care allowance or the family may claim private day care allowance in order to work. After a child turns three, parents may take partial care leave, meaning, you can work fewer hours per day or week in order to spend more time with your child — and though you can’t take partial care leave at the same time, both the father and the mother can take the partial care leave at a different times. This innovative leave lasts until the end of the child’s second school year. Furthermore, there is a child benefit payment for Finnish children under the age of 17 that’s paid monthly, and single parents get higher child benefits than other married parents. On top of the basics, Finland offers special care and help for disabled children, sick children and much, much more. It’s no wonder Finland ranks number one when it comes to being a mom while America ranks 30th.
What’s the point of all these benefits? Well, it’s hard to be a parent, even with the best benefits, but it’s clear that benefits make a big difference. With benefits like the ones offered in Finland, parents have a better opportunity to focus on being the best parents possible instead of worrying about supplies, maternity leave and how to afford to have a family. Benefits like these show that the government values families and allows parents to feel cared for and supported early on, and support, in turn, helps build better parents and stronger families. If they put their minds to it, the U.S. government could learn something from how Finland values all families.
Lead image via Flickr hugovk