One of the highlights of this class for students, and for me, is learning about Swedish public policies concerning the family. We have seen our own kids struggle to balance the care of their children and work. Most of them got little time off after each child's birth. They struggle to find good childcare and then the cost is as much as a second mortgage payment. A child's sick days are always challenging, in fact, Judy is on-call to go to Pittsburgh for the grandchildren who are there.
The Swedes are practical people. When they see a problem, they get together to fix it, like how to help parents balance work and family. They have actually been working on it for a long time, since 1900 when Parliament passed a law providing a 4 week leave of absence after birth of a child. Since then, they have expanded benefits to create a comprehensive system of support that helps assure that infants and young children receive good care and helps prevent their parents from becoming overwhelmed. What they do is really astonishing, especially when compared to the US.
In the US, mothers are guaranteed 4 weeks of leave after giving birth. Without pay. Swedish parents can take 13 months with full pay after the birth of a child and another 3 months at a flat rate, that is, not tied to their salary. They usually spread these days out, extending the leave to 2 years. Some of this time--at least 3 months is "Daddy time." It must be taken by the father or the days are lost. There are additional days that parents can take if a child is sick that extend through the school years. With pay.
At some point, usually around age 2, children start preschool. There is an extensive network of high quality preschools, staffed mostly by teachers trained in early childhood education. Unlike here, the parents do not get socked by high costs. The maximum cost per child per month is $120. Less for a second child. That amount would cover a day's worth of care at some places in the US. The goal of the whole Swedish educational system, according to the lecturer in today's class, is to create opportunities for every child.
I can hear some of you saying, we can't do it here. It's too expensive.
It is expensive, but it's an investment in the quality of life of children and their parents.
We visited a pre-school in the afternoon. It was a very nice program. The facility was old but serviceable. The teachers were engaged and creative, And the teachers had the freedom to be imaginative in creating activities for the children. There was music, art, running around, and a garden with fruit trees and vegetables planted by the kids.
While we might not be able to duplicate this kind of comprehensive program, maybe we could do some of it. And then, in time, we could expand it to meet more needs. It's practical and solves a problem.