Dr Christine Puckering is on a Winston Churchill Fellowship Tour, looking at how babies at social risk are identified early, even in pregnancy, and what services are put in place to promote a secure attachment between mother and child and father and child.
Christine is going to provide regular blogs on her tour of Netherlands, Iceland, Norway & Finland.
Initially it has been hard to understand why Icelandic children are doing so well. There is a schedule of free antenatal care including 7 scheduled antenatal visits and up to 10 for primips, following the NICE guidelines. After delivery, there is a visit at home in the first 10 days, then daily visits up to 10 days, when there is a handover to the child health nurses. The family are then offered 9 clinic visits of 20 mins duration in the first 18 months.
Parents get 6 months maternity leave and 3 months paternity leave with a cap on the allowance they can claim, making it unattractive to high wage earners.
Iceland is slowly recovering after the major financial crash of 2008 but most families need two incomes to live comfortably and child care up to age three when children can enter subsidised kindergarten is expensive and of variable quality. Some children go to “day mothers”, which we would call child minders, and some go to childcare centres. For some parents. Early childcare is so expensive that one parent gives up paid work.
These are good services on the whole but not perhaps exceptional. So where does the answer to why children are doing so well lie? As I asked the question in various settings I got converging answers. Icelanders are fiercely self-reliant, independent and egalitarian. They have a long history of women’s suffrage and equality and with a high value being put on education and literacy. In a small nation (330,000) the communities will pull together especially in adversity. Things may have changed since 2008. Grandmothers are still working and not free to look after children. Both parents are under financial pressure to work full time with part time work and part-time childcare difficult to find. It would be interesting to see what the figures in the UNICEF card 11 with data pre 2008 might look like if repeated now. UNICEF Report Card 12 shows a large impact on household and child poverty in Iceland.
On a lighter note, I was thrilled beyond expectations to see the northern lights over Reykjavik swirling behind the Peace Light which is lit for two months on Viðey island by Yoko Ono and then extinguished on 8th December, the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder.
This is not my picture but it is almost identical to what I saw. It makes a very strong symbol for Iceland, rooted in the forces of nature and facing the future.
Picture of John Lennon’s Peace Tower