December 5th 2015


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COVER STORY Well designed same-sex marriage law no solution

CANBERRA OBSERVED Kidman hectares to stay in local hands ... for now

EDITORIAL How to respond to Islamic State's latest outrages

OPINION What's left if Malcolm is in the middle?

LIFE ISSUES Feminists, conservatives unite against surrogacy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull government is not serious about defence

HISTORY Geography the great shaper of Taiwan

PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS Green ideology balances illogic with contradiction

SOCIETY Cultural displacement and the new terrorism

PUBLIC POLICY Cannabis for R&D has precedent in poppy trade

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare: paradigm or cautionary tale? Part I

CINEMA Not your average psychopath: James Bond: Spectre

BOOK REVIEW Fantastical Four

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FAMILY AND SOCIETY
Swedish daycare: paradigm or cautionary tale? Part I


by Jonas Himmelstrand

News Weekly, December 5, 2015

Sweden is a pioneer in public, tax-subsidised, out-of-home daycare. In 1975, the Swedish government made public daycare available and affordable to all. Daycare expanded greatly during the 1980s and was made even cheaper in 2002 when a maximum fee (maxtaxa) was introduced. No matter how many children, no matter how many hours they spend in care, no matter how high your income – you never pay more than a fixed maximum amount, which is 2574 krona monthly, or about $A415. A low-income family with one child would pay around $A155 a month.

Swedish daycare is unfortunately

not a system to look up to with confidence.

Daycare in Sweden is tax-subsidised at a rate of $A18,920 to $A24,200 per child annually. Parents who stay home, in most municipalities, receive no benefits of any kind. In high-tax Sweden this forces many home-care families into poverty.

The result, not surprisingly, is that daycare is the new norm in Sweden. Over 90 per cent of all 18-month to five-year-olds are in daycare. (Swedish parental leave is 16 months, so no babies under age one are in daycare.)

How it began

In 1978, the women’s caucus of the ruling Social Democratic party, a party that was in power for the better part of 40 years, published The Family of the Future: A Socialistic Family Policy.

The pamphlet strongly called for state-funded, affordable daycare. The goals were: better outcomes in child social development and academic achievement; class equity; and gender equity (or, as they put it, the liberation of women from their maternal instincts).

And the results?

Forty years later, official statistics show that the anticipated outcomes have not been realised. Poor outcomes are acknowledged across the political spectrum, but the connection with the daycare system is not made. Furthermore, there is surprisingly little interest in finding out why the poor outcomes exist at all. The following list shows what the outcomes are.

Declining psychological health

Physical health among Swedish youth is among the best in the world, but the same cannot be said for psychological wellbeing. An official Swedish government investigation in 2006 showed that mental health among Swedish 15-year-olds declined faster from 1986 to 2002 than in eleven comparable European countries.

For girls, rates of poor mental health tripled during this period, from nine to 30 per cent. According to the latest report in 2014 from the Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) the numbers have remained at these high levels.

The study is based on self-reported symptoms such as anxiety, fright and alarm – a point to which we will return later. The increase happened in all groups of youth regardless of family situation, labour market situation or parental socio-economic status. These self-reported studies are confirmed by a comparable increase in diagnosed psychiatric illness among youth during the same period.

Suicide attempts among Swedish youth are also increasing.

The Swedish public health agency is careful about how to interpret these findings. They say they do not know the reasons, but possible causes could be a tougher labour market or cultural changes, such as increased individualisation.

Increased sick leave among women

Sick leave for Swedish women is among the highest in Europe, with half of all women leaving work before age 65 due to psychosocial stress.

A 2005 study showed that the first generation of Swedish mothers who used the new daycare system had an “extremely high” rate of sick leave compared with other European countries.

Anecdotal evidence tells the story of stressed-out mothers who feel coerced, both culturally and financially, to leave their one-year-olds in daycare. That many parents prefer to care for their youngest children at home is well known.

Deteriorating quality of parenthood

A study by school consultant Britta Johansson published in 2007 in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet under the title “To dare to set limits” showed that even healthy, intelligent and reasonable middle-class Swedish parents are losing their parenting abilities. They are unaware of their children’s needs and are not able to set limits.

Johansson concludes: “The public offer of full-day child care seems to make many parents lose grip on their own responsibility. They believe/want that their children are raised by the daycare/school and believe that the experts on their children are found there.”

She also states the obvious: “Daycare/school can never fill the gaps caused by parents’ lack of time or their lack of trust in themselves.”

This is confirmed by Swedish schoolteachers, counselors and psychologists.

Highly gender-segregated labour market

Sweden is often hailed as a model for gender equality. It shouldn’t be. The Swedish labour market is among the most gender segregated in the world, not just in the West. Men typically work at well-paid jobs in the private sector, and women in comparatively lower paid jobs in the public sector.

Although the rate of employment of Swedish women may be among the highest in the Western world, comparatively few women reach top career positions, public or private. Neither has Sweden ever had a woman prime minister or president, differing from all other Nordic countries.

Rather Swedish women have become “public mothers” as they work largely in daycare centres and schools, and in health care.

Plummeting school results

PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) is the tool used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to rank countries’ academic outcomes.

PISA studies show that Swedish school results for 15-year-olds in mathematics, science and reading have gone from above OECD average in the years 2000 and 2003 to well below the OECD average in 2012. No other country participating in PISA has seen a stronger decline in student performance in the past decade.

The results are so shocking that the Swedish government asked the OECD to evaluate the Swedish school system.

The OECD report – “Improving schools in Sweden: An OECD Pers­pective” (2015) – identifies several problems in the Swedish school system, one of which is the lack of high academic expectations on the pupils. Report author Andreas Schleicher writes: “At the top of the list is the need to raise standards and aspirations for students.”

Yet the OECD report does not mention daycare as a possible negative influence on Swedish school results. It seems clear from the report that they have not even conceived of daycare as a possible correlative to later academic performance.

Disorder in classrooms

Research in both PISA and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) shows that Sweden has a high degree of disorder in its classrooms. This includes tardiness, truancy, bad language and disorderly behaviour. This is confirmed by Swedish teachers and headmasters.

No questions asked

Swedish daycare has the reputation of being high quality. This was true in the 1980s when Sweden had stricter regulations over group sizes and child-to-adult ratios.

By 1990, the average group size was almost 14 children with a ratio of 4.2 children per adult. Children under three were typically in groups of eight to nine children with three adults. Today, many children under age three are in groups of 17 children or more.

The number of adults may vary with sick leave – daycare staff are one of the top three categories in taking sick leave – and often substitutes are not used to save money. This means that some days a group of 17 children under three can have only two adults or even one for several hours.

Some experts are concerned that Swedish daycare quality is in some cases so low that healthy child development may be at risk. Two books on the subject have been published recently: Daycare for the Smallest Children: for Good and for Bad (2009) and Are the Children Doing Alright in Daycare? (2014).

In Are the Children Doing Alright in Daycare? Professor Ulla Waldenström asks for more research on the effects of daycare on children’s development. She notes that no substantial research on daycare has been done in Sweden since two small studies in the 1980s. This is puzzling given the enormous possible effects of a phenomenon involving 90 per cent of all preschool children at the most sensitive ages, and with allocations of 2 to 3 per cent of national spending.

Before other countries copy Sweden’s public daycare system, they should consider the results carefully.

Jonas Himmelstrand is a business consultant with over three decades experience. In 2007 he published Following Your Heart in the Social Utopia of Sweden, an attempt to understand social changes he had observed as a consultant and educator in business life. Himmelstrand is the founder of the Mireja Institute for welfare and development through family.

Himmelstrand lived with his wife and three children in Sweden until 2012, when they faced persecution for home schooling. They had to pay a fine of €11,000 ($A16,160). He and his family now live on the Aland Islands, a self-governing, Swedish-speaking province of Finland, where greater educational choice is allowed.

This article first appeared on the website of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada on September 10, 2015.




























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