Lifestyle lessons from Sweden: What are Scandinavian countries doing better to support families?
I often hear that the approach to early years education and family support in Norway and Sweden is much better than in the UK. In fact a study I read by UNICEF ranks Britain as one of the lowest in Europe in this regard.
I am curious, therefore, about what we can learn from the Scandinavians. I am going to share a few highlights from a report carried out in 2015 by Clare Simpson.
‘the family, as the fundamental group in society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.’ United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
A simple thing that they do better is offer consistent care: Parents begin attending a family centre during pregnancy and continue going to the same centre during the early years of their child’s life. This gives parents and carers the opportunity to build a sense of safety and trust which is an important part of our overall sense of well being. It can also improve our ability to heal.
Family centres even offer kindergarten sessions, providing opportunities for parents to build a sense of community and also allowing referrals to other services where needed. Groups that provide support for parents are devised locally rather than on a top down basis so that they can more effectively meet the needs of a specific community. Support and advice for new parents is readily available and receiving extra help doesn’t carry the same stigma that it does in the UK. Families are able to benefit from this without the fear that many people experience here of social services involvement. Early intervention means that difficulties can be allayed before they escalate.
The Rights of The Child
A positive aspect of Scandinavia’s approach is their focus on the rights of the child which are taken into consideration in town planning, employment practices and transport. For me this is an incredibly exciting approach, not only because children deserve to be treated as full citizens with rights but because if we stop marginalizing children and start integrating them it will have benefits for families as a whole. One of the biggest problems faced by parents with young children is isolation, this can and in many cases does, have a detrimental effect on their mental health which can very directly impact the child. If children are included in town and workplace planning it removes some of the factors that lead to isolation.
The Norwegian Constitution states:
Children have the right to respect for their human dignity. They have the right to be heard in questions that concern them, and due weight shall be attached to their views in accordance with their age and development. For actions and decisions that affect children, the best interests of the child shall be a fundamental consideration.
Children have the right to protection of their personal integrity. The authorities of the state shall create conditions that facilitate the child’s development, including ensuring that the child is provided with the necessary economic, social and health security, preferably within their own family.
Child Centred Care
Children’s rights play a key role in the approach to childcare. Family involvement with childcare providers is also encouraged, in his book “Hold on to Your Kids” Gordon Neufeld talks about the fact that a strong link between family life and childcare provision increases the child’s sense of security. If they can see that the teacher or nursery leader is someone trusted by their close attachment figure they are more likely to bond with them.
In Depth Parenting Preparation
“High quality, intensive midwifery services prepare parents for parenthood; generous parental leave allows parents to form attachments with their child and adjust to their new life together as a family; an intensive programme of child health nursing together with the remarkable open kindergarten system helps parents to find the support they need in the early years”, Clare Simpson.
I am offering workshops and one to one support to help parents-to-be prepare for the journey ahead. Please pass on this link to anyone who may benefit, I operate a fully inclusive policy so no one will be turned away because of lack of funds: https://journeyintoparenting.com/free-resources/
You can read the full report here.