Reykjavík Evens Out Fees for Daycare and Preschool

preschools in iceland

The City of Reykjavík is increasing its subsidies to daycare providers so that parents of children 18 months and older will pay the same fees whether their child is placed with a daycare provider or in a public preschool. The changes were approved at a meeting of the Reykjavík City Council this morning.

In the last election cycle for Reykjavík City Council, campaign promises were made that children would be guaranteed a spot in preschool from the age of 12 months, when government-mandated parental leave ends. This has not yet been realised, with staffing shortages and long waiting lists remaining widespread in the capital area. Children are currently guaranteed a place in public preschools from the age of 18 months, though not necessarily in a preschool near their home.

The changes to fees take effect in February 2024 and will apply retroactively from July 1, 2023. The changes do not apply to children under 18 months of age. Daycare providers are permitted to charge an added fee for additional services that are not included in the standard fee, for example for diapers.

The council also approved a motion stipulating that parents who have children who turned 18 months old between June 1, 2023 to January 31, 2024 can apply for an increased subsidy for childcare fees.

 

500 Children on Waitlist for Preschool in Reykjavík

preschool iceland

Árelía Eydís Guðmundsdóttir, director of the Council for Education and Recreation for Reykjavík City, has stated in a recent interview with RÚV that this will be a “difficult year.”

Last week, registration for preschool in Reykjavík opened for next year. Of the applicants, some 1,500 children will be placed, but more than 500 remain on the waitlist.

In Focus: The Preschool System

On the news programme Kastljós, Árelía ensured Reykjavík parents that children born in February 2022 and before would be guaranteed spaces at a preschool.

In the last election cycle for Reykjavík City Council, campaign promises were made that would guarantee children a spot in preschool from the age of 12 months. This has not yet been the case, with staffing shortages and long wait lists being a problem last year as well.

Preschool Staffing Shortage Leaves 90 Positions Unfilled

Árelía did not say exactly how many children would be without placements this year, but expressed her hopes to “empty the waitlist” as much as possible.

Other Reykjavík City Councillors have also called for increased funding to the preschool system, such as Independence Party representative Ragnhildur Alda Vilhjálmsdóttir.

For the past 15 years, around 1,000 children throughout Iceland have been without preschool or daycare every year.

Exacerbating the situation has been a recent decrease in the number of preschool workers, with many positions left unfilled.

On Kastljós, Árelía stated: “This will be a difficult year. There is no magic solution, but we are working to improve the situation.”

 

Hafnarfjörður to Pay Childcare Stipends to Parents, Increase Wages for Childminders

A woman walking two young children through the snow

Parents of children a year and older in the town of Hafnarfjörður may now apply to receive a monthly childcare stipend from the local government, mbl.is reports. These payments are equal to those made to professional childminders, or “day parents,” and are intended to allow parents stay at home with their children longer, therefore bridging the gap between when their parental leave ends, and preschool begins. The town has also approved higher hourly rates for day parents, as well as the establishment of a special fund that will provide grants for day parents who have been municipally employed for at least a year. The Hafnarfjörður town council approved the measures, effective retroactive to January 1, at its recent meeting.

In Focus: The Preschool System

Day parents are self-employed professionals who are licensed by, and receive work permits from, municipal authorities. These individuals care for children who are either too young to enter preschool, children who are still on the waitlist for a place in the overcrowded pre-k system, and/or children who simply need a smaller, more personalized environment. Licensed day parents generally look after small groups of young children in at-home settings.

In its announcement about the new measures, the Hafnarfjörður town council said it believes that new parents need a wider variety of practical solutions for childcare and is looking into such options as extending parental leave and creating more choice within the pre-k and day parent systems. The town, which has a population of just over 29,700 people, currently has just 26 licensed day parents.

Day parents ‘an important pillar of childcare system’

Hafnarfjörður appreciates that “day parents are an important pillar of the daycare system,” and the town hopes to recruit more qualified individuals to the profession. Day parents who have worked for Hafnarfjörður for a minimum of 12 months can now apply for a grant of ISK 300,000 [$2,105; €1,944]. Hourly wages for day parents will also increase from ISK 8,433 [$59; €55] to ISK 12,800 [$90; €83] an hour.

The council also seeks to better support low-income families and families with multiple young children. Low-income parents can apply for additional subsidies, for one, and ‘sibling discounts’ are available for siblings who go to the same day parent, preschool, or after-school program. The second child receives a 75% discount on fees and the third 100%.

Reykjavík Preschool Staffing Shortage Leaves 90 Positions Unfilled

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

In the latest numbers from RÚV, around 90 positions need to be filled before Reykjavík preschools can be considered fully staffed. Approximately 500 children aged 12 months and older remain on waitlists in Reykjavík City alone.

Continue reading: Almost 700 Children Waitlisted for Reykjavík Preschools

Hjördís Rut Sigurjónsdóttir, Information Office for the Department of Education and Recreation at City of Reykjavík, has stated that filling the vacant positions has so far gone more smoothly than expected, with around 95% of full-time vacancies filled. Nevertheless, many children still remain on waitlists throughout the city, with 478 children 12 months and older and 48 children 18 months and older still waiting on placements.

Not limited to the capital region, all of Iceland is experiencing something of a preschool crisis at the moment. Due to recent population growth, however, the problem is most keenly felt in Reykjavík and surrounding settlements. Traditionally, municipalities have accepted children into the preschool system starting at 18 to 24 months. Recently, there has been a push in the City of Reykjavík to start accepting children already beginning at 12 months into the system, to bridge the gap between parental leave and the preschool system. While the 12 month target was a much-requested concession for working parents, the preschool system has had to cope with much higher numbers this year, leaving many children stuck on waitlists.

Continue reading: City Council Introduces Proposals to Address Preschool Crisis

In a statement to RÚV, Hjördís said: “Recruitment for the kindergartens is going beyond expectations and it is clear that the actions taken by the City of Reykjavík have yielded results, such as advertisements and a new application website.”

Despite the progress made, many parents feel that not enough is being done to address the problem, with some having to resort to private daycares or else reduce their rate of employment to care for their children.

This August, working parents staged a demonstration at Reykjavík City Hall, turning the building into a sit-in daycare. The protest was an attempt to force action from a City Hall that they saw as doing little to care for their children.

So far, Reykjavík City has pledged to expand capacity through construction of new preschools and expansion of existing facilities. However, critics say the expansion of facilities cannot address the fundamental staffing shortage and that deeper changes in the education and remuneration of preschool teachers must be made.

Demand Investigation into Reykjavík Orphanages

Five men that were placed in Reykjavík orphanages during the last century are calling on city authorities to conduct an investigation into the institutions and their impact on the children put in their care, Vísir reports. In a 1967 headline, the orphanages were described as a “breeding ground for mental infirmity.” The group says their stays at the institutions caused them and their families harm.

Árni H. Kristjánsson, Fjölnir Geir Bragason, Hrafn Jökulsson, Tómas V. Albertsson and Viðar Eggertson demand the City of Reykjavík appoint a team of specialists to investigate the operations of the Hlíðarendi Orphanage as well as the Thorvaldsenfélag Orphanage, which were run by city authorities between 1949 and 1973. In a letter they have sent to city officials, the group references the words of Dr. Sigurjón Björnsson, a former city councillor, who has shown that children placed in the orphanages were permanently harmed due to “disruption of their emotional development.”

Children at the orphanages most often had living parents. Their mothers who were disadvantaged – young, single, or poor – and caved to pressure from authorities who deemed them unfit to care for their children. RÚV reports that the institutions resembled hospitals: painted white and with minimal furniture, where staff only attended to children’s physical needs but deprived them of the touch, love, and stimulation required for healthy development. Parents were only allowed to visit at very restricted times and then only to see their children through a glass barrier.

The orphanages were harshly criticised even during their operation. “It’s necessary to review how many children were placed in the orphanages during their period of operation; their health after their stay and how well they managed to find their footing in life,” the letter from the five men states. The men will meet with Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson tomorrow.

Toddler Santas Spark Joy

A news report on toddlers in santa outfits sparked joy on social media

During last nights broadcast evening news, RÚV reported on a childcare worker in Akranes who dresses herself and her wards up in Santa costumes before their walks around town. Icelanders expressed much joy over the report and accompanying video clips on social media.

Magný Guðmunda Þórarinsdóttir is a childcare worker in Akranes in west Iceland. For the past 18 years, she’s dressed the toddlers in her care in Santa outfits during December. She has a costume for herself as well, and during her walks with the children, the group turns heads. According to her, the children love the event as much as Akranes residents love to see them, and they line up to receive their outfits when it’s time for a walk. They go out most days, “to get a little jolt of Christmas”.

After the report aired, several Icelanders took to social media claiming that the adorable clip of Santa toddlers was exactly what they needed during this difficult time. A local poet and rapper stated: “There were a few small children on the news, wandering around aimlessly as they are wont to do, with big red cheeks, wearing Santa outfits, and now I’m pregnant.” He was not the only one, with another local stating that he couldn’t explain it but after watching the news, his ovaries were jingling. One also noted that the only thing cuter than the report itself was beloved news anchor Bogi Ágústsson’s smile after the report ended.

Changes to Parental Leave Law Encourage More Equal Division of Childcare

Reykjavík baby

Proposed changes to Iceland’s parental leave law hope to more equally balance childcare responsibilities between mothers and fathers, Kjarninn reports. If the current revisions are passed, both of a child’s parents would be allotted six months of leave, but only one of those months would be transferable between parents.

A new draft of the new parental leave law has been published on the government’s website and will be open for public comment until October 7.

At the end of 2019, parliament voted to extend parental leave from nine months to 12. This change will go into effect on January 1, 2021 and, per Minister of Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason, will be extended in stages. Parental leave in Iceland is currently 10 months—four months per parent plus two that can be shared between them. However, studies have shown that the majority of fathers in Iceland only take the four months specifically allotted to them, while the majority of mothers take their four months as well as the two months that they could potentially be sharing with their partners.

Changing the status quo

The revised bill hopes to change this status quo by making paternity leave nontransferable. The logic is that if paternal leave is not sharable to the same extent it is now, parents—particularly fathers—will be encouraged to shoulder an equal burden of the childcare in their households and will also be in a stronger position to negotiate with their employers about taking their full allotted leave time.

Another significant change to the current law would be that parents would have a shorter timeframe in which to exercise their right to take parental leave—a year and a half instead of two. The aim of this change is to ensure that parents take their leave when their children are in the greatest need of their care, that is, from the time of their birth to when they are eligible for daycare.

The drafted bill also proposes that both parents have an independent right to two months’ leave in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth that takes place after 18 months’ pregancy.

Reykjavík Preschoolers at Home Today

Around half of Reykjavík’s preschoolers are affected by a worker’s strike today, RÚV reports. Efling Union members who work for the City of Reykjavík are striking for the second time this week, as collective agreement negotiations between the parties have not reached a conclusion. Most of the 1,800 striking workers are employed at schools, including preschools. The city’s welfare department and waste management are also affected by the strike.

Around 3,500 children attending preschools in the city will be affected by the strike today. Preschools that remain open today have split groups so all children attend for half a day, either in the morning or afternoon. Food service is also disrupted in some preschools, meaning children were asked to come with a packed lunch.

Disabled and elderly people affected

The City’s welfare department received an exception from the strike for the Efling members who perform key services for disabled people and children, as well as services for the elderly both at home and at nursing homes, and emergency services at homeless shelters. The strike will nevertheless affect some 1,650 people who depend on services provided by the welfare department. Among the services that will not be performed today are cleaning services in the homes of disabled and elderly people and bathing assistance.

If an agreement is not reached, Efling members will strike again next week, from 12.30pm on Tuesday, February 11 until midnight on Thursday, February 13. An indefinite strike is scheduled from February 17.

Prime Minister Katrín Among World’s Most Influential Women

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is one of the 20 most influential women in the world, according to Australia’s CEO Magazine. The media outlet featured her in an list of “women around the world who have made their mark but continue to fight for the rights of their less fortunate sisters.” The article praises Katrín as a champion of women’s rights.

The magazine quotes an article on gender equality Katrín wrote for the World Economic Forum, where she emphasised the importance of well-funded, shared parental leave in addressing systematic gender discrimination. “If men are as likely to take a break from work to care for children, this structural discrimination diminishes,” Katrín wrote. “Many female politicians in Iceland would never have got where we are today if it wasn’t for childcare and parental leave. I am an excellent example of that.”

Katrín is in good company on the list, which also features Amal Clooney, Malala Yousafzai, and Melinda Gates, among others.