Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Childcare in Denmark

Since Tristan was born, we often get asked how the Danish welfare system works with regard to parental leave, benefits and suchlike. Therefore we thought it might be interesting for some of you to read a short overview.

Home with baby

To begin with parental leave, pregnant women may take leave four weeks prior to giving birth. After the child is born, the mother is entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave (the first two weeks of which is obligatory), and the father is entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave during the first 14 weeks.

After this initial 14-week period, the parents are entitled to an additional 32 weeks leave, which they can freely divide between them. For example, both of them can take 16 weeks off (either at the same time or consecutively), or one of them (usually the mother) may stay home for the whole period. In reality the latter is most often the case; according to statistics an average Danish father only takes 3,4 weeks of paternity leave, while a mother spends 42, 3 weeks home with her baby. There is growing consensus in society that something ought to be done about this disparity, perhaps by forcing fathers to take a more active role in childcare – more on that in my next entry.

Back to parental leave, parents may save an 8-to-13-week period for later, but not later than the child’s 9th birthday. Conditions for adoption and multiple (i.e. twin) births are similar. In other words, getting twins do not entitle one to longer leave. In short:

  • 4 weeks leave for the mother before giving birth
  • 2 weeks leave for the father after birth (during the first 14 weeks)
  • 14 weeks leave for the mother after birth
  • 32 weeks leave that can be divided between the parents

All in all, a parent can be home with the baby for almost a year. During this period she is entitled to parental benefits, currently 3515 DKK per week before tax.

The system as described so far only covers the minimal entitlements, as prescribed by the law. Many employers offer better conditions to their employees. These typically mean longer leave and/or full pay for some of the period. Ane, for example could already take leave 8 weeks before Tristan was due, and received her full salary instead of parental benefits for the first 24 weeks.

Baby in care

What this all adds up to is that most children in Denmark begin in some form of childcare between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. This may sound alarmingly early for someone from Hungary, where it is not uncommon for mothers to stay home for three years. On the other hand, for an American it may appear extremely generous. In any case, the system seems to work. The cultural expectation is that women should take a job and build a carrier, and about 72 % of all Danish women do so. Yet Danish birth rates are among the highest in the western world: 1.8 children per woman, compared to the EU average of 1.5.

Who cares?

The three most typical forms of childcare are (1) day nurseries, (2) private or communal day care, and (3) employing a nanny. Day care is usually run by a single child-minder who looks after 3-4 children in her own home. She is normally in a contractual relationship with the local authorities, who also inspect whether her home meet fire- and health and safety regulations. Nurseries and day care are costly affairs, and some families therefore opt to employ a nanny, typically a young girl in her late teens or early twenties. Nannies normally don’t live with the family, but work there only during the week.

As for Tristan, he has been registered for three nurseries in the neighbourhood, and we are quite excited about where he will get a place when Ane returns to work on 1 November.

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