Sweden: A warning against overzealous state family policies
SWEDEN, May 5, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – To those who believe that Sweden’s family policy is the model for a social utopia, well-known Swedish mentor, researcher and business consultant Jonas Himmelstrand says he is ready to “bust the myths.” Far from a utopia, Sweden is overwhelmed with parent-child alienation, a consequence of overly-obtrusive family policies that heavily favor state subsidized day care over home care, he says.
Despite the material wealth, low child poverty, subsidized day care, free healthcare, and high life expectancy, according to Himmelstrand Sweden is riddled with stress-related health problems in adults, declining psychological health and school results in youth, a high number of people on sick leave, and an inability for parents to connect with their children, which “all point downwards.”
“The total picture is very difficult to explain away,” Himmelstrand told LSN, but “the picture becomes clear when one realizes we have made a policy that separates children from families.”
The making of a social critic
Himmelstrand is an experienced educator, mentor, and writer who has presented and lectured to companies since 1981. He took an interest in family policy many years ago when he saw first-hand the disconnect between his materially rich country and its citizens’ apparent inability to grow, develop, and mature as they should. To study welfare and family-related issues in more depth, he founded the Mireja Institute.
His unique research led him to write a book, “Following your Heart – in the social utopia of Sweden,” published in October 2007, with an English translation currently underway. Since then, Himmelstrand has had speaking engagements with the Swedish parliament and at conferences worldwide.
Himmelstrand was invited to speak at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada’s Policy Conference in Ottawa earlier this month, to address an ongoing debate in Canada over subsidized national daycare and parental support in childcare choice. Himmelstrand offered his research to provide insight into these issues and their effects on families.
Subsidized daycare for 1-year-olds
Swedish family policy begins with children as young as one, most of whom are sent to highly subsidized daycares. Some school children may begin extracurricular programs as early as 7:00 a.m. and conclude their day with after-school programs running until 5 or 6:00 p.m. Most parents are in the work force due to high taxes and the push for “gender equality” so as to keep women from being “locked at home, to the stove,” as is a Swedish expression.
“The central problem with the Swedish model,” Himmelstrand told LSN, “is that it is financially and culturally coercing parents to leave their children in daycare from one year of age whether they feel it’s right or not.”
While tax subsidies for daycare amount to $20,000 per child annually, most regions have no financial benefits for parents who choose to stay at home with their children in the toddler years. In a country of approximately 100,000 births annually, statistics show that of Swedish children between 18 months and 5 years old, 92% are in daycare.
“You’re not forced to do it…propaganda is a strong word,” said Himmelstrand, “but the information about the benefits of daycare” from the media and other sources “makes parents who keep their children at home until 3 or 4-years-of-age feel socially marginalized.”
Further, Himmelstrand emphasized that the push for daycare “hides the bigger picture” that many parents do not want their children in daycare. These parents may “hide their feelings” and after enrolling toddlers in daycare and may even “defend their choice because it is too painful to look at it again.”
Meanwhile, the media and government extols the “right” of a child to between 15 and 30 hours of daycare each week, even in families where a parent may be at home for work or on parental leave. “It has gone on for so many generations that it has become the norm,” said Himmelstrand.
While Himmelstrand and others are now making the argument that all children are different and some not ready for daycare at 1 year of age, they are continually met with the claim that daycare workers are “trained” to care for these toddlers, as opposed to parents, and that even small children need day care.
The result of this is the devastating fact that so many parents have lost their “parental instincts.” “A study sponsored by the European Union showed many middleclass parents lack the ability to set limits and sense their children’s needs,” Himmelstrand wrote recently.
Negative effects of daycare
Himmelstrand argues that although science may not be able to trace the exact cause and effect, a strong argument can be made that the behavior problems and psychological issues in children and youth have resulted from the long hours spent away from parents each day.
A contributing factor may be that the idealized “high quality” daycares with low adult-child ratios that once made Sweden renowned worldwide, do not really exist in the country anymore. Where there was once a 10-4 child-adult ratio, now numbers routinely reach 17-3.
In the end, said Himmelstrand, while admitting that he lacks the hard data to prove his point, the daycare ideal seems to encourage breakdown in families, whereas those who buck the trend tend to have stronger families. “In fact, I hardly know any home families that have divorced,” he added. “If you’re a home family in Sweden, husband and wife really have to agree… it makes for strong families.”
“Where Sweden has gone wrong,” said Himmelstrand, is “deciding that all the money for child care should go into institutionalized daycare.”
Families just want choice
Today in Sweden there is a small, but growing movement of parents who have experienced day care in the families they grew up in, and do not want this for their own families. “These parents just want the choice to be available to choose home care and an acknowledgement from the state that this is a valid choice,” said Himmelstrand.
While Himmelstrand admits to being personally in favor of caring for children at home, he maintains that countries should support the parents’ decision as the best decision, no matter what.
It is a “good idea to support child care as long as you support all forms of care fairly. But if you’re going to solely support daycare then you are going to create a problem, you can see that from Sweden.”
Himmelstrand believes that, left to decide for themselves, without outside pressure, most parents would be influenced by parental instinct to choose home care at least in the toddler years.
“What I see as a real danger is when one is politically killing the homecare option, because something is being destroyed there.”
Those families who have rejected the norm when it comes to day care, “realize ‘we’ve created something wonderful’,” Himmelstrand said. “They are rediscovering families… and view their parenting role sometimes as more exciting then a job.”