By: Tess Blake
Prior to discussing how night nurseries operate, it is important to understand the contextual framework of Sweden’s childcare system. Given many other developed nations continue to struggle with implementing effective childcare policies that address the need for childcare during the regular 9am-5pm workday, understanding Sweden’s history will help explain why night childcare is not only possible, but universally accessible.
Sweden is consistently referred to as a global gold standard for childcare and family policies. The influx of women entering the working economy during the late 1960s not only required the attention of policymakers to implement effective, innovative, and standardized childcare policies but proved to be an opportunity for the Swedish government to develop a system of universal child care that would be referred to and modelled after worldwide. According to the Swedish National Agency for Education (“Skolverket”), the National Commission on Childcare had two goals when crafting the Swedish childcare system in the early 1970s: “One [was] to make it possible for parents to combine parenthood with employment or studies and the other [was] to support and encourage children’s development and learning and help them grow up under conditions that [were] conducive to their well-being (2000, p.3).”
In order to address an adult’s ability (especially women) to work while simultaneously raising a family, Sweden implemented fee subsidies to increase the affordability and accessibility of childcare to Swedish parents. The Paid Parental Leave Program pays new parents 80% of their monthly income for the first 16 months after the birth of their child. A spot in a local pre-school is not only readily available but guaranteed to all children aged 1-5. Fees are proportional to monthly parental income, with parents paying 3% of their salary, at a maximum of $190 (CAD). When a child attending preschool turns three years old, parental fees are further subsidized, to 525 hours of annual childcare (or roughly three hours per day) covered by the state.
The second goal of policymakers that was intended to create childcare conducive to a child’s social and cognitive development was most notably met in 1996. This year marked the transition of jurisdiction over childcare from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to the Ministry of Education. The 1998 preschool national curriculum further solidified Sweden’s system of childcare to be more famously (and accurately) known as “Educare;” a blend of education and childcare.
Most Common Types of Childcare
In 2016, approximately 95% of all children aged 4-5 attended state-funded preschool in Sweden, one of four main types of childcare methods (EPSU, 2018). An additional 2% of children aged 4-5 were reported attending family daycare. Whereas preschool operates in a more formal setting, family daycare homes provide young children with an opportunity to be cared for in a childcare provider’s home residence. The other two forms of childcare are leisure time centres, where children can be cared for after a regular school day, and open daycare, a community-based practice where primary caregivers stay with their children and engage with other families. Open daycares are usually free services, given that parents stay with their children and childcare providers are not solely responsible for supervision.
What is Night Childcare?
Overnight childcare services, more commonly referred to as “night nurseries,” have been offered in Swedish municipalities beginning in 1993. The southern city of Norrkoping is one of 120 current municipalities offering this state-funded service to parents who provide proof of employment during night hours. Latest reports revealed there were four daycares offering night childcare services in this municipality. Although these programs are funded by the Swedish central government and subsidized similarly to preschool programs, it is the decision of local city councils as to whether these programs are offered to parents. This service is available typically after 6:30pm, when day childcare concludes. Children are dropped off, eat dinner, read bedtime stories, and go to bed until they are picked up in the morning when parents’ shift work is over. A BBC article written in 2013 reported that this service has been used by approximately 5,000 children and families. Considering this article was written eight years ago, this service has undoubtedly helped several thousands of families.
Why is it important? Who does it help?
Sweden’s highly socialist political and economic system provides the preconditions necessary for working adults to start families (preconditions that many other developed countries including Canada are lagging on). Although daycare is undoubtedly necessary, implementing after hours “night nurseries” further addresses a demographic of the population whose interests and needs are repeatedly cast aside and swept under the metaphorical “rug:” women. Maria Arnholm, Sweden’s former Minister of Gender Equality, stated that “…it is important that families can combine parenthood with work and that shouldn’t just include those who work nine-to-five but also those who work inconvenient hours.” In 2008, the Population Reference Bureau released a report analyzing the demographic trends of employment start and end times in the United States. According to this report, low-income, people of colour, and women are more likely to work outside of the “normal” work day, with many women beginning shifts at 6pm or 7pm. Considering the majority of those engaging in night employment already face adversity, many of whom are disproportionately women (and primary caregivers), having no childcare options that align with their careers further exacerbates pre existing barriers. Although some choose to work at night, many do not have the variety of employment options that result from access to higher education and other forms of privilege (financial, racial, gender, ability).
Hotel workers, cleaners, taxi drivers, edlerly caregivers, sex workers, and airport workers are just a few occupations that typically operate outside of the usual workday. Many of these jobs are held by marginalized groups, including women and other gender minorities, low-income folks, people of colour, those living with disabilities, elderly folks, immigrants, and those facing language barriers, with many of these identities intersecting. Recognizing intersectionality and the crossroads of privilege and oppression is paramount in order to understand how policymaking affects everyone differently. Understanding not only who works at night but why is instrumental in understanding why offering night childcare is pivotal in making cities work better for society’s most vulnerable members.
Where is Vancouver at in terms of universal childcare?
Although Vancouver has adopted some policies which could be considered left-leaning, progressive, and socialist, this city’s history with socially-informed policymaking is unequivocally surmounted in comparison to Sweden as a whole. Whereas Sweden’s childcare costs parents less than $190 (CAD) a month in proportion to monthly income, reports confirm that daycare in Vancouver currently costs upwards of $1,100. Current subsidies offered to low-income families by the Ministry of Children and Family Development can lower this cost significantly, to approximately $200 a month; however, often parents are still overcharged (often the ones most in need of financial assistance). Not only is childcare in Vancouver expensive, but the $10aDay Child Care campaign initiated in 2011 reported there is only enough licensed childcare practices for 18% of the children in BC. Since the campaign’s initiation, progress has been made by the provincial government, most notably beginning in 2018 when discussions regarding the Affordable Child Care Benefit and Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative arose. Both these initiatives work to reduce financial barriers for low-income families. According to monitoring reports by the $10aDay campaign, more than 50,000 families have been assisted financially, saving $350 a month. The fees for the majority of parents making less than $45,000 have also been removed. Within the last three years, around 20,000 new licensed childcare facilities have come into fruition, with the wages of Early Childcare Education (ECE) professionals being raised roughly $2,000 annually.
Although there are currently no night nurseries in Vancouver, Vancouver City Council proposed a motion in February of this year to explore the possibility of night childcare facilities. Fortunately, this motion passed, meaning investigations regarding the costs, logistics, re-zoning, and potential impacts on Vancouver families pertaining to night childcare are set to take place. Although Vancouver has a long way to go before its family and childcare policies work for all families of all backgrounds, steps are being taken in the right direction.