Towards a more Family Friendly Helsinki
Quality early childhood education and care is an investment in the future
Early childhood learning and care (ECEC) should be on hand and available when the family needs it. Stable groups and committed staff provide children with a secure environment in which to grow. It is also important to make it easier for parents to find information on ECEC application procedures and on how applications are progressing. Group sizes that reflect the child’s age and needs are crucial, so that parents can leave their child in care with confidence.
Services that work, where you need them
Health services should be easily accessible when they are needed. Family Centres, offering basic services for families with children, make things easier for many, but the distances to these facilities have grown. Family centre activities should be easily accessible by public transport, without changes.
Home Care for Families with Children must be supported. The service should have a low threshold and be able to react quickly to changing circumstances. Digital communication channels between the city and its citizens need to be developed. More evening and weekend access to services is required.
City planning that recognises the needs of families and children
Families must be able to access affordable housing. As many as one in ten children in Helsinki live in low-income families.
When you are pushing a pram or a stroller, it is a speedy learning curve: in no time at all you become an expert on ease of movement. Anywhere that can be reached with a wheelchair can also be accessed with a sleeping baby.
Investing in schools brings rewards
Class sizes in schools should be small enough for teachers to interact with their pupils as individuals.
We must strengthen schools’ means of supporting students who are struggling or who are in particular need of help. In order to prevent anxiety, depression, and bullying amongst children and school pupils, we need enough reliable adults who can serve as a kind of lightning conductor, to channel and interpret the surrounding world in such a way that the child can comprehend it and cope with it according to his or her age-group.
More free-time activities for schoolchildren are needed for mornings, for afternoons after school, and during school holidays, and not just those aimed at the 1st and 2nd grades. Suitable, free, low-threshold hobby activities close to school premises are part of securing a child’s right to balanced, well-rounded development, reducing stress and promoting equal access for all to enjoy hobbies.
We need to have low threashhold support against psychological problems among our children and the young. Caring for families’ well-being, ensuring quality education services, and seeing that child welfare is provided with adequate resources are all vital tools in this effort. Child perspectives should be increased in budgeting and resource allocation.
A city that invites us to play
In the two years since it opened, Oodi, the Helsinki Central Library, has proved itself an enormous success as a downtown “living room” for the residents, drawing in and wowing everyone from babes-in-arms to their grandparents. It is a civil society triumph. We need more spaces like this in the city; more places for children to play together, and not just out in the residential suburbs, but also in the centre of town.
Playgrounds and playparks could incorporate fun & instructive themes from history or nature: good examples of this can be found in Stockholm, for instance. Adults and young adults should always be offered spaces for exercise and recreation close to children’s play areas.
Climate and Environment
The city can help individuals to reduce emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from the residents derive for the most part from getting around, from life in the home, and from food and preparing it. The city councillors can play their part by increasing the attractiveness of public transport and sustainable transport alternatives, by taking aim at emissions from heating and electricity generation.
By improving conditions for cycling, more and more people can be encouraged onto two wheels, and the traffic culture can be made safer and less fraught for cyclists and motorists alike. Cycling can become a safe alternative for almost everyone, even parents with their children, the elderly, and others who have chosen so far to give bicycles a miss.
Helsinki can invest in children’s climate change education by ensuring that teaching professionals have the chance to get further in-service training on the topic.
Local Nature! The free pick-me-up on our doorstep
Even a short outing in the forest is a tonic, as anyone will tell you. The health benefits for children of having trees in the grounds of day-care centres are also well-documented. Spending time in the outdoors refreshes the mind, relaxes the soul, and reduces stress. There is not always the time or the opportunity for long hikes, so this only increases the significance of having nature on the doorstep. Invigorating parks and woodlands must be close at hand, and the same goes for safe beaches and places to go swimming, and not just in the summer months, either!
Advancing gender equality demands a recognition of the various structures that uphold discrimination, and then the courage to do something about dismantling those structures. Maternity, family, and children’s health centre services have a key role in supporting equal parenting. The whole family must be acknowledged for these services, and the father or other guardian must be treated equally and enjoy a common sense of belonging.
Gender impact assessment needs to be used in decision-making. To take one simple example, women use public transport more than men do, and it is well documented that good lighting helps to provide a sense of security and to reduce the anxiety felt by women out walking. On another front, anonymous recruitment processes - eliminating names, gender and age from HR application documents – have been shown to level the playing-field in hiring, and to promote gender equality in the city’s recruiting for vacant positions.
Rising to the challenge of integrating work and family
An efficient and accessible day-care system for children is a must for parents to be able to go to work. Early childhood education and care places should be available without waiting lists, close at hand, and when they are needed. Children are born throughout the calendar year, and the often-worrying issue of securing a care place at a reasonable distance from the home should not be somehow shackled to the concept of “starting in August”. When policies are made and decisions are taken, it is important to recognise the immediate impact they will have on the everyday lives of families.
Making Helsinki an equal, family-friendly employer
The City of Helsinki is the largest employer in Finland. The city also has a significant role in promoting employment in the region.
We need to foster employment opportunities and work orientation programmes among those who have recently arrived in Finland, and particularly to support getting female migrants into the job market.
Let us work, too, to ensure that Helsinki takes account of the challenges of integrating work and family in its personnel policy, making the city an attractive, family-friendly place to work, so helping to guarantee the means to maintain the services we all need daily.