Swedish daycare: International example or cautionary tale?

IMFC 10 September 2015  
Sweden is a pioneer in public, tax-subsidised, out-of-home daycare. In 1975, the Swedish government made public daycare available and affordable to all. Daycare expanded greatly during the 1980s and was made even cheaper in 2002 when a maximum fee (maxtaxa) was introduced. No matter how many children, no matter how many hours children spend in care, no matter how high your income – you never pay more than a fixed maximum amount, which is SEK 2574 monthly, or just below CAD $400. A low income family with one child would pay around CAD $150 per month.1
Daycare in Sweden is tax-subsidised at a rate of between CAD $18,000 to CAD $23,000 per child annually. Parents who stay home, in most municipalities, receive no benefits of any kind. In high-tax Sweden this forces many home care families into poverty.
The result, not surprisingly, is that daycare is the new norm in Sweden. Over 90 percent of all 18 month to 5-years-olds are in daycare.2
Since Canadians look to Sweden as an international example, it is wise to ask: Is the Swedish model a best practise to copy or a cautionary tale?
How Swedish daycare got its start
In 1978, the women’s caucus of the ruling Social Democratic party, a party that was in power for the better part of 40 years, published The Family of the Future: A Socialistic Family Policy.3
The pamphlet strongly called for state-funded, affordable daycare. The goals were 1) better outcomes in child social development and academic achievement, 2) class equity, and 3) gender equity (or, as they put it, the liberation of women from their maternal instincts).
The results
Forty years later, official statistics show that the anticipated outcomes have not been realized. Poor outcomes are acknowledged across the political spectrum, but these are not connected to the daycare system in any way. Furthermore, there is surprisingly little interest in finding out why they exist at all. The following list shows what the outcomes are.
Rapidly declining psychological health in youth
Increased sick leave among women
The deteriorating quality of parenthood
Highly gender segregated labour market
Plummeting school results
Disorder in Swedish classrooms

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