Here's why Sweden is the best country to be a parent

A child eats ice cream with his mother during the hot weather at the South Bank in London August 18, 2012.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Citizens in Sweden now receive the most parental leave in the world, and it can be split between parents. Image: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

John McKenna
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Many parents have the heart-wrenching experience of leaving home for work before their young children wake, only to return after they have gone to bed.

However, there is one country in the developed world where - because of a generous parental support system - this is less common: Sweden. And thanks to the scheme, parents may work shorter hours, or even not work at all.

The country was last year voted the best in the world for childcare, and came second only to the Netherlands for family living.

The world’s longest paid parental leave

Sweden’s parents are given more paid time off work to look after newborn children than those in any other country. And - while other states may offer longer maternity and paternity leave - none have a scheme that is more generous to both parents.

Parents have a leave allowance of 480 days, 390 of which are at 80% pay. The remaining 90 days are paid at a flat rate.

The allowance can be split 50-50 between both parents, but there is also a minimum period of three months’ non-transferrable leave for each parent within the 480 days, a benefit that puts Sweden among the most generous to new fathers.

However, while parents do not have to take the three months, they lose anything they do not use.

Image: statista

Currently there are proposals to increase the “use it or lose it” element of leave for dads to five months, as fathers are less likely than mothers to use the whole of their allowance.

This increase in the “daddy quota” would see Swedish fathers leapfrog their French counterparts and have the third-longest paternity leave in the world after South Korea and Japan.

However, while the government is making the proposals in an effort to promote equal sharing of leave, it is also proposing to cut the overall allowance to 460 days.

Sick pay for children

Sweden’s support for parents does not stop at infancy: they can also take up to 120 days leave per year to care for a sick child up to the age of 12.

Known as vård av barn, which stands for “care for a child” in Swedish, parents are paid a little shy of 80% of their salary to look after their sick child. The funds are provided to the parent via a government compensation scheme instead of their employer.

Parents can even apply for up to 60 days’ compensation if their child is healthy but their regular carer, such as a childminder or grandparent, is unwell and unable to look after the child. Time off to take children to doctor and dentist appointments is also covered under the scheme.

Child benefits

Meanwhile, children in Sweden can attend preschool on a voluntary basis from the age of one, and on a mandatory basis from age three to six. The government pays for three hours of preschool per day.

The preschools, which are seen regarded as a bridge to mainstream education, focus on a mix of play and learning.

Parents with children under the age of eight who have not finished their first year of school are entitled to reduce their working time by up to 25%, so turning an eight hour day into six hours.

This gives parents of young children time to drop them off at carers or in school - or simply to return home before their children go to sleep.

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