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IMMIGRATION

Swedish baby groups help immigrant parents

Sweden has just been rated the top place in the world for expats to raise families, as The Local reported last week. But there is a flip side and immigrant parents often report feeling isolated from their native neighbours, so some Swedes are helping to break the ice.

Swedish baby groups help immigrant parents
Parenthood in a foreign country can feel lonely. Photo: Shutterstock

Children's laughter and nursery rhymes resonate through the library as young mums play with their babies: in a suburb outside Stockholm, a group of immigrants is trying to learn Swedish and integrate into society.

The 'Swedish with Baby' programme is aimed at both immigrants and Swedes on parental leave, offering them a chance to get together once a week to learn from each other and break the isolation that Sweden's generous parental leave – of up to 16 months – can sometimes bring.

“I've come almost every week since September. I'm at home alone with my daughter Maggie, who is 14 months,” says Bobbie, a 28-year-old mother who came to Sweden from China a year ago with her engineer husband.

“It's perfect for the babies, and for me too. We sing a lot, and there's nothing better than nursery rhymes to learn the language.”

Immigration to Sweden has skyrocketed in recent years, due mainly to the country's open-door refugee policy welcoming those fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Somalia, to name just a few.

Once a homogeneous country, Sweden only began welcoming immigrants some 50 years ago. Now, around 20 percent of the population of 10 million have roots outside the country.

The Scandinavian nation has numerous state-run programmes in place to help immigrants settle in, such as free language classes, employment agency assistance, and housing and living subsidies. And last week, families told The Local why Sweden is the best place in the world to raise children.

READ MORE: Why is Sweden top in the world for expat families?

Yet many doors in society remain closed to immigrants, including those of their neighbours – many say they never get to know any Swedes even after living here for years.

After the birth of a child, foreign parents can often find themselves even more isolated, with no one to talk to.

While the anti-immigration far-right gains ground – the Sweden Democrats became the third biggest party in September's general election – some Swedes are starting up private initiatives to help break the ice with immigrants.

'Swedish with Baby' was started in 2012 by two mothers on parental leave who wanted to help break young parents' isolation.

“People get to meet each other as parents. Everyone's at the same level, we talk about kids in a language adapted to kids. It helps break down barriers,” the head of the programme, says Anna Libietis.

She organizes 13 meetings a week, held in Swedish and free of charge, in suburbs and towns outside Stockholm.

“That's where the people who are most distanced from Swedish society live. In the city centre, the immigrants are usually quite integrated,” she adds.

Akiko, a 38-year-old pharmacologist from Japan, has lived in Sweden for five years and does not work. She comes to the meetings almost every week with her one-year-old Toshi.

“It's better than [language] classes because of the sharing,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Swedish mums in attendance say they come to meet new people but also because they want to do their bit for integration.

“I want to be part of a more open society. We need that, especially with what is going on in Sweden and the world with the rise of the far-right, which I find frightening and sad,” explains 30-year-old Swede Sofia.

Lars Svedberg, a sociology professor at the Ersta Sköndal University in Stockholm, says Swedes have a long tradition of wanting to help those in need.

“Swedes have comfortable lives, they want to give back. That's why they volunteer,” he says..

Standing back from the group, Leo's mum, a native of Uganda, watches the chit-chat with a look of amusement. It's her first meeting, but in elementary Swedish she says she'll come back – she wants to learn Swedish to keep up with her son.

For members

FAMILY

How does the cost of childcare in Sweden compare to other countries?

Parents in Sweden benefit from a cap on childcare costs, with parents paying different fees based on their household's income. But how does the generous scheme compare to other countries?

How does the cost of childcare in Sweden compare to other countries?

Preschool childcare is not free in Sweden, but fees are income-based, with a maximum fee across the country 1,572 kronor (€145) per child per month (fees for 2022).

There are also deductions for each child if you have multiple children attending preschool at the same time – in this case the maximum fee would be 1,048 kronor for the second child and 503 kronor for the third, with parents paying no fee for any further children.

Children over three are entitled to 15 hours of free preschool education per week, so these are deducted from your fee once your child reaches this age.

To get an idea of how much you would have to pay based on your income, you can use this calculator (in Swedish – similar calculators exist for other municipalities). These fees are adjusted yearly by the Swedish school authorities and are applicable to all municipalities. If your child has a preschool place, you have to pay even if you do not use it – over summer or during holidays, for example.

School meals and preschool meals are free in Sweden, meaning you don’t need to pay extra for your child’s lunch, breakfast, or any snacks served during the day.

Denmark

The exact amount parents pay for childcare in Denmark depends on the municipality. In Copenhagen Municipality, the cost of nursery (vuggestue up to 2 years and 10 months) is 4,264 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €573). For kindergarten (børnehave from 2 years and 10 months to 6 years) it is 2,738 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €368).

The government pays 75 percent of the cost of a place or even more if your household income is below a certain threshold. 

If you have more than one child using childcare, you pay full price for the most expensive daycare and half-price for the others.

Norway

The cost of nursery and kindergarten is capped at 3,050 Norwegian kroner, regardless of the hours attended or whether that facility is state-run or private. This means you’ll never pay more than roughly €295 a month per child in childcare costs.

Germany

The costs for daycare centres (Kindertagesstätte, or Kita for short) can differ greatly depending on where you live in Germany, as the fees are set by the local government.

In Schleswig-Holstein in the far north, parents pay on average nine percent of their after-tax income on childcare costs. In Hamburg, 4.4 percent of parent’s income goes on childcare as every child in entitled to five hours of free care a day. In Berlin, daycare is completely free. 

Spain

Costs can vary depending on whether it is a  private or public guardería or centro infantil (as nurseries are called in Spanish).

Public ones are heavily subsidised by the government and cost around €100-260 per month, depending on where you live in Spain and your situation. Private nurseries cost between €150 and €580 per month. There is also a fixed yearly fee called a matrícula or enrolment fee, which is around €100.

There is a 50 percent discount for large families and single parents don’t have to pay anything for childcare.

There’s also a deduction of up to €1,000 (cheque guardería) that is applied to the income tax return and works out at around €100 to €160 per month which is aimed at working mothers and is available up until the child is three years old.

France

In France, crèches tend to be the most affordable option and the cost is based on the family’s income. High earners might pay up to a maximum of €4.20 an hour (€33.60 for an 8-hour day), whereas low-income families might pay €0.26 an hour (€2.08 for an 8-hour day) at a crèche collective, which is for three months to three year olds. At the age of three, compulsory education begins in France.

The cost of a childminder is around €10.88 an hour and up to 50 percent of the costs of a nanny or professional childminder can be reimbursed by the government.

The OECD calculations on the percentage of income spent on childcare – based on two parents both working full time – is 13 percent in France. This is roughly similar to Spain and Italy.

Austria

Public nurseries and kindergartens are heavily subsidised and in some cases free, depending on where you live. For example in Vienna, parents only need to pay €72.33 a month to cover meal costs, with low income families being exempt from that fee.
 
Vienna also subsidises private kindergartens, paying up to €635.44 a month directly to the institution. 
 
In other provinces, kindergarten is free for part-time hours. It is mandatory for all children in Austria to attend part-time kindergarten from the age of five. They start school aged six.

Switzerland

The average Swiss family spends a massive 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent.

The average cost of childcare in Switzerland is CHF130 a day (€136). Due to tax breaks and subsidies paid out in the cantons, many parents will pay between 30 and 80 percent of this cost, depending on income. This equates to paying between €41 and €108 a day, roughly €902 to €2,376 a month. 

It’s even more expensive to hire a nannie, which will cost between CHF3,500 (€3,678) and CHF5,000 (€5,255) a month, including mandatory pension contributions.

United Kingdom

According to charity Coram in their Childcare Survey 2022, the average cost of full-time nursery is £1,166 (around €1,304 a month), which is even higher in some parts of London. There are some government subsidies available for low-income families and those receiving benefits and every parent is entitled to 15 or 30 free hours of childcare the term after their child turns three years old.

Childcare conclusion

The cost of childcare varies within each country, depending on family circumstances. However, for guaranteed low childcare costs for every parent, Sweden comes out best, with a maximum of €145 a month.

Average monthly cost of state-run childcare:

Sweden: €145 maximum

Norway: €295 maximum

Austria: €72.33 – roughly €500

Spain: €100 – €260 

Germany: €0 –  €368

Denmark: €368 – €573

France: €45,76 – €739.20 

Switzerland: €902 – €2,376 

U.K. €1,304 which reduces the term after the child turns three.

By Emma Firth and Becky Waterton

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