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%.

‘Mom Training’ Workout Groups in High Demand

A new exercise regimen and community is in high demand among new mothers in Reykjavík. Vísir reports that there has been a spike in the popularity of so-called mömmuþjálfun, or ‘Mom Training’ classes, in which new moms work out with each other and bring their kids along, too. Mom Training sessions focus on areas of the body that were directly impacted by childbirth and give new mothers a rejuvenating activity outside the house during their maternity leave.

Mom Training is the most popular offering at Afrek Functional Fitness, with three classes already sold out and a standing waitlist.

Screenshot, Stöð 2

“We just started with one class in January, but since then, in order to meet demand, we added classes in February and again in March,” said Hildur Karen Jóhannsdóttir, a trainer at Afrek who is also herself a new mother.

“It’s insanely fun,” said Andrea Björk Harðardóttir, a mom who takes part in the classes. “The exercises are varied and there’s something for everyone. Her fellow classmate Jónína Einarsdóttir agreed: “It’s necessary and so much fun. You get so much out of it.”

Screenshot, Stöð 2

Moms are able to ride exercise bikes, do step exercises, lift weights and more—and all while their babies watch from nearby carriers or loll about on the mats around them. A small playpen is also set up in one corner of the gym.

‘One of my goals is that they walk out sweaty’

Hildur Karen credits a recent boom in births with the course’s popularity, but not entirely. “I think women are looking for something more. One of my goals is that when they come in here, they walk out sweaty and having had a bit of an outlet.”

The participants enjoy opportunity to get out of the house during their maternity leave and to “get back into the shape you were in,” says Andrea Björk.

The fact that new moms can bring their children with them while they exercise is also key.

“I couldn’t come work out if I couldn’t bring her with me,” said Jónína, bouncing her new baby. “And she thinks it’s fun, too.”

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.

Parental Leave Extended to Twelve Months

Yesterday, in its final session before Christmas, Parliament passed new legislation extending parental leave to twelve months. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir discussed the new law on Facebook, stating that it was a huge step forward for Icelandic families, and also an important step toward greater equality.

Christmas Break

Parliament convened for the final time before Christmas yesterday. During the final session, new legislation was passed extending parental leave from nine months to twelve. Following the session, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir briefly recounted the history of parental leave in Iceland on Facebook. Compared to other Nordic countries, Katrín wrote, Iceland adopted parental leave laws late and defined them narrowly, to begin with.

The parental leave laws that are in effect today were passed in 2000, wherein Parliament extended the leave from six months to nine in three phases: “Another twenty years passed without any extension, or until the time of our current government,” Katrín wrote.

For the past two years, the government has made changes to the parental leave system by increasing compensation on the one hand and by extending the leave with the new bill signed yesterday on the other. “Both of which are important steps in fighting child poverty and increasing the quality of life of families with children,” Katrín wrote.

A Brief History of Parental Leave

The history of parental leave in Iceland traces its origins to 1980. In that year, a new law guaranteed women a three-month maternity leave with six months’ worth of compensation. Mothers who worked from home were entitled to one-third of what working mothers received. In 1986, Parliament extended maternity leave to six months. The right of fathers to paternity leave was enacted in 1998. Otherwise, the parental leave system remained almost unchanged for twenty years, from 1980 to 1999, until the 2000 legislation that extended the leave to nine months.

Iceland Lags Behind Nordics on Parental Leave

preschool kindergarten kids children child

Iceland lags behind the other Nordics on parental rights and parental leave, says Ingólfur V. Gíslason, a sociologist at the University of Iceland. RÚV reports that this is among the findings that Ingólfur and his research collaborator, sociology doctoral student Ásdís Arnalds, discussed in a radio interview on Rás 1.

Iceland is the only Nordic country in which parents are, for instance, left to come up with their own childcare solutions between the end of their paternity leave and when their child starts attending pre-school, at around two years old. This is a significant problem, says Ingólfur, which works against the equality-driven thinking that motivates parental leave laws.

A great deal of important data on the subject started being collected in 2001 by professor Guðný Eydal. One of Guðný’s projects was to survey parents whose first child was born in 1997.

“Parental leave laws took effect in 2000,” remarked Ásdís. “So we have data that applies to parents who had their first child before the laws took effect. The survey was repeated in 2007, then again in 2014, and we’ve just started administering the survey for the fourth time.”

‘Enormous Changes’ in Parental Participation Over a Short Time

Ásdís noted that she and Íngólfur had examined parental participation in the care of their children, as well as their participation in the labor market after the end of their parental leave.

For his part, Ingólfur said that what has had the most significant effect in this regard was when parental leave compensation shifted from flat rates to 80% of the parents’ typical wages. “The most obvious change is that parental cooperation—that’s to say, the number of parents that qualify as dividing [care-taking responsibilities] equally—has steadily grown throughout the time that we’ve been conducting these surveys.”

Ingólfur continued that when considering the data on the first three years of a child’s life, much has changed in the short period of time since the first group of parents (those whose first child was born in 1997) were surveyed. “On one hand, we have the lines that show that mothers are the main caretakers, and on the other the lines that show that this [caretaking] is equally divided. They never overlapped for these three years. Now, however, they have started to overlap when the child is ten or eleven months old. So we’ve seen enormous changes over these relatively few years. That fulfills, at least in large part, one of the primary goal of these laws, that is to say, to ensure that children are cared for by both of their parents.”

Ingólfur said that Icelandic fathers come across well in the survey conducted by the World Health Organization every few years. There is a question on the survey, for instance, in which young people are asked about how easy it is to come to their parents with personal problems. “There have Icelandic young people ranked their fathers considerably higher than they did the last time this was done—here we had young people who had enjoyed the full benefits of these changes, that Icelandic fathers topped world lists when it came to teenagers being able to approach them with personal problems. Icelandic mothers have always been at the top, but fathers have now got there, too.”

Parental Leave Shorter in Iceland Than Any Other Nordic Country

Ásdís said that data shows that mothers in Iceland are spending an increasing amount of time at home with their children in order to bridge the childcare gap between when shared parental leave ends and preschool begins. Fathers took less leave time after a ceiling was set on leave pay in 2004, and then even less following the financial crash in 2008. Around that same time, mothers began spending more time at home with their kids and on partial leave, for instance by stretching a six-month leave payment across a twelve-month period in order to reduce the amount of time that the child spent in paid, private childcare with a day mother or father, says Ásdís.

In all of the other Nordic countries, children are either taken into preschool right after the end of paternal leave or parents are entitled to subsidies during the childcare gap. Ingólfur says it’s interesting that Iceland is now on the third majority government that has sought to extend parental leave, and yet, still nothing has been done on this issue.

Ingólfur co-authored a book entitled Parental Leave, Child Care and Gender Equality in the Nordic Countries in 2012. It’s available here, as a full-text .pdf, in English.