European Expert Group on demographic issues. Best practice meeting on the reserve grandparent programme in Denmark. Brussels 16 October 2009

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1 European Expert Group on demographic issues Best practice meeting on the reserve grandparent programme in Denmark Brussels 16 October 2009 The Reserve Grandparent Programme in Denmark Mai Heide Ottosen Danish National Institute of Social Research, Copenhagen Synthesis Contributions to the Best Practice meeting on the reserve grandparent programme in Denmark provided information to participants on the policy context in which reserve grandparent initiatives have emerged. A reserve grandparent scheme is a service, operating on an almost voluntary basis, that helps families by helping them with finding daycare when children fall ill. In most Danish families both parents work full time, sometimes without the possibility of taking time off work when children fall ill. In this case, a retired person (the reserve grandparent) stays at home with the sick child. The target group for the programme is children in families with a weak or non-existent social network. In this article, key aspects of the situation for Danish families were described, focusing on parents employment situation, the child care system, and work-life conflicts, in particular for families with young children. The reserve grandparent programme is presented, detailed information having been obtained from the Danish Ministry of Social Welfare and a representative of the NGO Gladsaxe Grandparents. During the Best Practice Meeting, a discussion between the representatives of Member States and European stakeholders focused in particular on the conditions under which the Danish programme could be transferred to other countries. Given the simplicity of the reserve grandparent programme, it appears as if the model could be transferred abroad, but it should be borne in mind that in the Danish context in which the public child care system is a highly developed reserve grandparent services are only a tiny initiative. In other countries the basic problem may be that there is no provision of formal day care facilities, and the burden of care falls exclusively on parents and grandparents. 1

2 Introduction: The context for the programme Parents in employment and child care provision Denmark and the other Nordic countries have high levels of female participation in the labour force compared to other EU Member States. In total, over 70 %of Danish women are in employment. Women aged between 30 and 40 years, a period when many have young children, have employment rates of over 80 % (OECD Family Database, 2007). Trends in full-time and part-time employment rates between show little change in fathers' working hours. Most fathers work full-time, working 43 hours per week on average. For mothers, the average working week has increased from 31 to 35 hours over the same period. The proportion of mothers working full-time has risen from 41 % in 1974 to 60 % in The proportion of mothers working part-time with relatively few hours (less than 25 hours) has reduced dramatically, while it has become more common to work for over 25 hours per week in a part-time job. Currently, one third of mothers work hours per week (Christoffersen, 2004). Mothers and fathers still have different patterns of working hours, with fathers averaging seven hours more at work each week than mothers. The most common working time pattern in families with young children is that both parents work full-time. The development towards full-time dual-earner families is also reflected in the number of young children who are enrolled in childcare facilities. Most children less than 1 year old are cared for by their parents, since the period of parental leave lasts until the child is 11½ months old. Only 17 % of children younger than 1 year old are in day care. The number of children enrolled in day care facilities increases dramatically to 81 % once the children reach 1 year old, and stabilises at 96 % by the age of 3-5 years old. From the age of 5 some children enter the school system, while the rest enter school at the latest by the age of 7 years. Once children begin school they are offered a place in afterschool care (Rostgaard, 2004). Thus, Denmark surpasses the Barcelona targets, set by the European Council, that provision of childcare by 2010 should cover at least 90 % of children aged between 3 years old and the mandatory school age and at least 33 % of children under 3 years of age. Childcare for preschool children is an important element in Danish welfare provisions. There is general consensus in Denmark that the provision of preschool day care is an important social task, requiring the involvement of the state and local authorities. Accordingly, day care is publicly organized, subsidised and regulated, and most providers are either public authorities or institutions that have entered an agreement with the local authority and therefore, in the eyes of the public, are considered to be a public provision. All children in Denmark are given the opportunity to attend a day-care facility. This therefore obliges the local council to ensure the provision of the necessary number of places for children living in the local authority in order to provide guaranteed day-care availability. Day-care facilities can be set up in various ways either as local authority child-minding, local authority day-care centres, independent day-care centres, private child-minding or an approved private day-care centre. The vast majority of children aged between 0-2 years are in child-minding schemes, while most 3-5 2

3 year olds are looked after in day-care centres (kindergarten). On average, children aged 3 years old spend 6-7 hours per day in a day-care setting (Christensen, 2000; 2004). Work-life balance work-life conflicts Issues about work-life balance have been on the political agenda in Denmark in recent years, like in other countries. In 2005, the Danish Government set up a Family and Working Life Commission composed of researchers and other experts. It was intended that the Commission should firstly identify the most significant barriers for people to achieve a balance between family and working life, and was in particular expected to focus on those groups within society where work-life conflicts were greatest. Secondly, the experts would formulate recommendations, aiming to improve the work-life balance. Research, carried out for the Commission, suggested that one third of the working population experiences stress and time conflicts (NFA, 2004; 2006). Families with young children are at particular in risk of experiencing work-life conflicts (due to time pressure), and among these, three groups called for special attention: single parent families (due to lack of flexibility and few resources); full time working parents with work without clear boundaries (typically highly educated middle-classes); and families with a lack of flexibility (from irregular working hours, shift work) (Deding et al., 2006). One area that creates work-life conflicts in dual-earner families with young children is when children fall ill. Until recently, most Danish employees were entitled to the right to stay at home one single day together with their ill child, but children usually tend to be ill for longer than one day before they recover. Several studies have shown that illness in young children is a significant problem, especially among toddlers aged from 1-2 years. In a medical study (Nielsen et al., 2006) (see Fig. 1) parents were interviewed about the illnesses during the previous 14 days of their children under age 16 living at home. The result suggested that the prevalence of recent illness was 29 % among children aged 1-2 years and 16 % among children aged between 3-5 years 1. According to the parents, % of the children had been absent from day care due to illness. 1 In a recent study the rates were even higher, at 37 % among children aged 1-2 years (Johansen et al., 2009). 3

4 Fig. 1. Prevalence of recent illnesses in Danish children (in percent). Source: Nielsen et al. (2006) Studies have also shown that children in day-care centres are more exposed to infections and illness than those who are cared for by their own parents or are in family day care. The risk of infection increases with the number of children within a given area (Nielsen et al., 1998); the authors concluding that the high prevalence of infections among 1-to-2-year-old children underscores the need to decrease the spread of infections in day care centres and to avoid the most vulnerable infants being cared for along with many other children. As a consequence of the fact that illness among young children is regarded as a significant problem in many families, the Danish Family and Working life Commission considered it carefully (see below). Out of a total of 31 recommendations, five were suggestions to help tackle this problem. Among these, the Commission encouraged so-called reserve grandparent schemes to continue and develop (The Family and Working Life Commission, 2007). General objectives of the reserve grandparent programme Even though the reserve grandparent programme is small-scale in nature compared to other types of care facilities in the Danish context, we can regard the service as one instrument in the strategy to meet the challenges of demographic ageing and improve the work-life balance. Reserve grandparent services help families with young children so that parents can stay on the labour market, even when their children are ill. Furthermore, the programme could also be regarded as an example of intergenerational solidarity, in the sense that elderly people help younger families with childcare problems. 4

5 Main features of the service Reserve grandparent services should be seen as one instrument among others to relieve families in cases when children are ill and have to stay at home from the day care centre or family day care. The basic idea is that the "reserve grandparent" functions as care person when children are ill, and the parents themselves (or other close relatives) don't have the possibility to take time off from work and stay at home with the child. Thus, the target group for the programme is children and parents in families with a weak or non-existent social network. Reserve grandparents are typically older people no longer in works, who volunteer to take care of ill children while parents work or study. The "reserve grandparent scheme" is not meant to be a substitute for close family ties, but can benefit both the pensioner, who has free time to spend with children, and aiding time-poor families. The reserve grandparent service is not a novelty in Denmark, but has existed in the municipality of Copenhagen for over a decade (since 1996). In Copenhagen, the target group for the programme is single mothers with young children who need support. However, from 2009, other local municipalities and voluntary organizations could apply for financial support (for a limited period) from the Danish Ministry of Social Welfare to develop and activate reserve grandparent schemes. In total the government allocated euro (State budget, 2008) for the purpose. From the perspective of the Danish Ministry of Social Welfare, reserve grandparent schemes are viewed as being in line with the government s general objectives; that family policy should ensure flexibility and freedom to plan family life as families wish; and that family policy should be based on an active civil society, creating meaningful networks and social relations that strengthen individuals and families. For the Danish Ministry of Social Welfare, a major purpose for financially supporting reserve grandparent initiatives was to highlight how great the need was for reserve grandparents, and how best to recruit persons who are willing to act as reserve grandparents. Initiatives funded by the state should use different approaches, particularly in determining the need for the programme, and the target group should be families with a weak or non-existing social network. Both local municipalities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could apply for funding. The Danish Ministry of Social Welfare purposefully involved civil society actors and planned for the projects to be carried out by volunteers, since there are many reasons for involving civil society more closely in the process of policy development, planning and implementation: one reason being that consultation and dialogue with civil society organisations helps to improve the policy outcome and enhance stakeholders involvement. Furthermore, according to the Ministry, NGOs and voluntary organisations of various kinds are often able to develop innovative approaches based on a realistic picture of what is actually needed. In any case, the origins of the reserve grandparent initiative lie outside the public sector, in civil society. 5

6 The Danish Ministry of Social Welfare received 10 applications (much lower than expected); of these, seven applications were accepted and granted funding in 2009 and Four of the successful reserve grandparent programmes are run by local municipalities, while three projects are run by NGOs (voluntary organizations). Currently no overall information exists about how the seven ongoing projects are working, and since the projects are supposed to run for a couple of years before being evaluated, it is too early to draw any final conclusions about the success of the initiatives. Among the state-funded public projects, it seems that the programme run by the High-Taastrup Municipality is a particularly interesting and appropriate project in which the target group is families with children aged 0-6 years. The project involves 30 families and seven reserve grandparents. The programme has a project coordinator, who recruits reserve grandparents, organizes training courses and facilitates contact between parents and potential reserve grandparents. In its project description, High-Taastrup Municipality set out clear objectives for the scheme after the grant expires. After the start-up phase, the service will be transferred to an organization which will carry it on. The aim is that the reserve grand project should be a permanent service, where a retired person will act as a paid coordinator. Gladsaxe Grandparents, another local initiative, this time run by a voluntary organization, was presented at the best practice meeting by Ms. Helle Kristine Petersen, chair of the organization and representative of the parents. Ms. Petersen provided detailed information on how reserve grandparents schemes could be run. Early preparation for the Gladsaxe Grandparent scheme started in 2008 when three reserve grandparents and a coordinator of volunteer work started advertising for members to join the organization. Later that year, a board was established, a coordinator appointed, and funds were applied for. Children began being cared for by reserve grandparents in January 2009 with the involvement of five grandparents and 13 families. One reserve grandparent was male; the rest female. This gender ratio is assumed to be similar to that in other reserve grandparent schemes in Denmark. Some reserve grandparents have had experience with children from their professional career (e.g. nurse, teacher). By October 2009, five grandparents and approximately 25 families were involved in the local organization. The board hopes to reach the goal of involving 20 grandparents and 100 families in the local organization. The initiators of the local reserve grandparent organization recruited substitute grandparents by advertising in local newspapers and distributing folders to organizations for the elderly as well as to public institutions such as childcare institutions, doctors' surgeries and libraries. The organization also established procedures for accepting reserve grandparents: people are only accepted if they have retired, if they are aged 60 years or older, and if they are fit and healthy. The recruitment policy is based on the philosophy that if applicants are not able to have a job on the formal labour market, then they are not qualified to take care of children. Furthermore, the organization also asks the applicants for access to check their criminal record (this is a normal procedure in Denmark for 6

7 applicants who wish to work with children). Finally, two members of the board visit the applicants at home to observe if the person appears to function well. Families were recruited in similar ways to the substitute grandparents, and they were also subject to certain procedures to be accepted onto the scheme. The families had to inform the organization about the number of children in the family, if there were children with special needs (physical, mental and cognitive diagnoses), and whether there were smokers and pets in the home. Finally the organization made sure that the parents understood and accepted the concept of the scheme: firstly, that the reserve grandparent scheme is only meant for sick children; and, secondly, that the organization does not guarantee that the same grandparent can appear each time the family has the need. To be a member of the organization each family pays 25 euro per year. Families and substitute grandparents live in the same local area. When families need a reserve grandparent to come, they call the coordinator in the late afternoon to book for the next day. The coordinator then arranges for a grandparent, and calls the parents back to confirm the appointment. Parents pay the grandparent directly (a set fee of 6.50 euro and 4.25 euro per hour). The income is tax free by law for the grandparent. Since the grandparent's salary is relatively low, the organization has created strategies to keep the grandparents on and make the job attractive. Thus, grandparents are allowed to decline families or children, for example, in cases where there has been an earlier mismatch. As a part of the job policy the elderly people are only available as reserve grandparents on the days they choose themselves. This policy of leaving the reserve grandparents with a fair amount of freedom to decide which days they prefer to work as care persons probably incentivises them to stay in the scheme. Furthermore, to make the arrangement practicable for the grandparents there is a maximum of five families per reserve grandparent. Courses are provided to reserve grandparents in first aid and childhood diseases before they begin work. Finally, to establish a good network, in which families and reserve grandparents get a chance to know each other better, the organisation arranges social events twice a year, such as picnics and a carnival. Interest and limits of the programme While it is too early to evaluate the success of the Danish reserve grandparent scheme, certain important challenges did emerge: Seen from the perspective of the child, it may be a weakness (at least in the case of the Gladsaxe Grandparents project), that the families have no guarantee that the same grandparent will take care of the child, not even if the same child is ill for several days. Young children do not necessarily have confidence in a relatively strange care person. Seen from the perspective of the local organiser, it is evident that the demand for substitute grandparents is larger than the supply. It is a particular difficulty for the organization to recruit 7

8 elderly people as reserve grandparents. Many retired people already have an active life filled with engagements and they may, in addition, have their own grandchildren to care for. From the perspective of the Danish Ministry of Social Welfare, it may be a challenge that relatively few local municipalities and NGOs applied for funding to organise reserve grandparent schemes. This fact may reflect that families are not very interested in such care solutions for their ill children. We should bear in mind, from a broader societal perspective, that in the Danish context, the reserve grandparent programme is a tiny project, targeted at certain sorts of families (with a weak or no social network) in special situations. For instance, for divorced immigrant mothers with young children to whom labour market participation particularly important to maintain income levels as well as for integration, such an arrangement appears to be very supportive. However, reserve grandparents schemes cannot meet all the needs for childcare for sick children. Danish families generally demand high quality care for their children, probably preferring that parents themselves (or other close relatives) act as care persons when children are ill. Besides encouraging reserve grandparents schemes to continue and develop (Recommendation n 19 in the report), the Danish Family and Working Life Commission also recommended the government, social partners and local municipalities to take other kind of actions to find sustainable solutions for the provision of childcare for ill children (The Family and Working Life Commission, 2007). Their other four recommendations were: Recommendation n 1: All parents should have a statutory right to look after their child on the first day that the child is ill. Most Danish employees are entitled to the right to stay at home for one day when their child becomes ill. However, a minority of parents (people who are neither covered by collective agreements nor have individual contracts with their employer) lack this right. The Commission proposed that children of these parents should have the same right to parental care as other children and for that reason time off should be guaranteed by law. Recommendation n 2: The social partners are called upon to agree time off with pay for more days in case of a child s illness. Children tend to be ill for more than one day at a time, i.e. longer than parents are entitled by law to take days off. Experience suggests that, regardless of the rules, it is not unusual that parents take more days off (second and third days) when their children are ill. (For example, one of the parents may take the first day off while the other parent takes the second day off, or parents report to their employer that they are ill themselves.) Thus, while many parents do in fact look after their ill children, they do so by circumventing the rules. By giving each parent the right to take off the second day of a child s illness (that is four days for both parents together) the formal rights would approach actual social practice. Furthermore, the introduction of such rights would make formal rights in Denmark equivalent to other Scandinavian countries. In Sweden parents are entitled to take 60 days off per year to take care for ill children (at 80 % of full wages), while in Norway parents are allowed to take 10 days off per year (full wages). 8

9 The question of staying at home when children are ill lies within the realm of the social partners' collective agreements, and the government is not currently proposing to legislate in this area. From 2009, however, the social partners representing the public sector have agreed to extend the time off work to care for a sick child from one day to two days, while it seems that the existing norms of one day of leave to care for a sick child in the private sector will continue. Recommendation n 3: More opportunities should be created for people other than parents to look after ill children. Currently, it is only the child s parents (including foster-parents or step-parents) who are entitled to take time off when children become ill. The Danish Family and Working Life Commission laid down the principle that parents should be the primary care persons when children are ill, but sometime this solution is not possible. In these cases the next best solution may be other close relatives. Thus, it would supportive for some families if, for example, grandparents were given more favourable opportunities to take time off work to look after ill children. Recommendation n 5: Illness in day-care facilities should be prevented. The Commission's report found that prevention of child illness should form part of the local authority s child policy, implemented by the day-care centres. In conclusion, the Danish Family and Working Life Commission has focussed on children s illness and health in their child-centred recommendations. In sum, these are that young children should be entitled to the same rights as other Danish citizens when ill, that is, the right to stay at home and be taken care of until they feel well again. The reserve grand programme might be one instrument to reach that goal, but it is evident that such a tool is far from sufficient to solve child care difficulties in families with small children. Conditions for transferability Reserve grandparent schemes are a positive example of policies that enhance social cohesion and intergenerational solidarity in the way that elderly people on almost voluntary basis provide support for families who need help in special situations. In Denmark the reserve grandparent programme is restricted to those cases when children are ill but, hypothetically, the schemes could be extended to other type of situations, for instance where parents work shifts. The implementation and daily organization of local services does not require much administration and financing. However, it seems necessary to appoint a local coordinator to pair families with reserve grandparents, and a local board is needed to monitor the recruitment processes and ensure high quality of care. The model is flexible in the sense that reserve grandparent programmes could be organized within in the framework of NGOs as well as by the public sector. In the case of Denmark the government encourages NGOs and local municipalities to organize grandparent arrangements by providing financial support, thereby recognising and indicating that finding day care for ill children is not a private matter for parents to solve. 9

10 It appears that the reserve grandparent programme could be transferred to other countries, in great part because of the model's simplicity. Yet, when evaluating the value of the initiative it is important to bear in mind that the scheme was established in Denmark; a country with a highly developed public child care system. The programme in question should be regarded as a service that goes beyond public day care. Arrangements such as reserve grandparent schemes will probably appeal most to member states with high levels of public welfare provisions, while in other countries the basic problem is that there is little or no provision of formal day care. In these countries the normal situation and only option for many families is that grandparents take care of sick children. References: Christensen E (2000) Det 3-årige barn. Rapport nr. 3 fra forløbsundersøgelsen af børn født i Socialforskningsinstituttet 00:10, Copenhagen. Christensen E (2004) 7 års børneliv velfærd, sundhed og trivsel hos børn født i Socialforskningsinstituttet 04:13, Copenhagen. Christoffersen MN (2004) Familiens Udvikling I det 20. Århundrede, Socialforskningsinstituttet, Rapport 04:07. Copenhagen. Deding M, Lausten M & Andersen A (2006) Børnefamiliernes balance mellem arbejdsliv og familieliv, Socialforskningsinstituttet 06:32, Copenhagen. The Family and Working Life Commission (2007) Chance for balance et fælles ansvar. Hovedrapport fra Familie- og Arbejdslivskommissionen May Johansen A, Jespersen LN, Davidsen M, et al. (2009) Danske børns sundhed og sygelighed, SDU & Statens Institut for folkesundhed. 20sundhed%20og%20sygelighed.aspx. Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø, Det, (NFA; tidligere Arbejdsmiljøinstituttet AMI), (2004) Helbred og trivsel på arbejdspladsen, spørgeskema med resultater fra undersøgelsen om psykisk arbejdsmiljø samt. Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø, Det, (NFA; tidligere Arbejdsmiljøinstituttet AMI), (2006) Særkørsler for Familie- og Arbejdslivskommissionen (på baggrund af NFA, 2006). Nielsen A, Lie H Keiding L, et al. (1998) Børns sundhed i Danmark. 350pp. Copenhagen: DIKE, Nielsen A, Koefoed BG, Møller R & Laursen B (2006) Prevalence rates of recent illnesses in Danish children, 1994 and UGESKRIFT for LÆGER 168(4): (article in Danish, English abstract). 10

11 OECD Family Database (2007) Rostgaard T (2004) With Due Care Social Care for Children and Older People in Europe. Phd Thesis. Southern Danish University & the Danish National Institute of Social Research. 11