The Basics

Early childhood policy in Finland in a nutshell:

Mothers are entitled to five weeks maternity leave. After that, there’s a parental leave period of ten additional months that can be taken by either mother or father or divided between the two. After that, children have an “unconditional right to day care.” That can be provided either at municipal-run institutions or else at private ones. There are fees day care charged on a sliding scale according to income that max out at 233 euros per month. That’s far less than the cost of care, which, clearly, is heavily subsidized. A family that prefers to have a parent stay home and take care of the children can do so and receives a home care subsidy. Thus, the system is neutral between traditional and working-mother models. About 30 percent of Helsinki children are in the home care / allowance system.

Private daycare facilities are eligible for the same level of public subsidy as municipally run ones. This isn’t really a profitable line of work and so there aren’t many providers — just five percent of Helsinki children are enrolled in a private center.

That leaves the other 65 percent of Helsinki kids in the municipal centers. Centers have two kinds of staff members — “kindergarden teachers” who have bachelor’s degrees and “practical nurses” who have less education. For every four children under the age of three you need one staff member. For every seven children between the ages of 3–6 you need one staff member. And for every two practical nurses you need one kindergarden teacher. So a section of 21 older kids would be taught by one kindergarden teacher assisted by two practical nurses.