'First 5' Little Baby Bundle Pilot Initiative
The 'First 5' Little Baby Bundle Pilot initiative was announced in early February 2023. 500 Little Baby Bundles will be delivered to participating families in Dublin and Waterford over the coming months. These families will then give their feedback and share their thoughts and experiences of the Bundle which will inform proposals for a nationwide roll-out. The Bundle " will be filled with a range of useful items, including play items to encourage early communication and bonding, household items for help with safe bathing and safe sleep, as well as a range of other items to support new parents after the birth".
'First 5' is a ten-year whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families. It aims to help make sure all children have positive early experiences and get a great start in life, acknowledging that the antenatal to age five period as the most critical period in a child’s life.
The Finnish Model
Social Justice Ireland Annual Social Policy Conference 2022 was on the theme 'Towards Wellbeing For All'. Raili Lahnalampi, the Finnish Ambassador spoke at the conference about the 'The Finnish social security system and innovations paving the way towards a just and equal society'. Their maternity package is an important part of that social security system, social investments in children being key to the Finnish model. In her paper, she explained that "The first maternity grants were provided in 1938 intended for low-income mothers only. In 1949, the maternity grant was made available to all mothers in Finland. The introduction of maternity grants was prompted by concerns over declining birth rates and high infant mortality. The key element of the system was to provide the mothers access to public health services, so the grant and package are enablers for a larger scheme. A prerequisite for receiving the maternity grant is that the mother must visit a doctor or a maternity and child health clinic for a health check before the 4th month of pregnancy. In practice, this means a health check that you have before the end of week 18. This innovation was a turning point in improving the health of mothers and babies. Nearly all first-time mothers now choose the maternity package. Only a third of all expecting mothers opt for the cash benefit (at present €170.) For several years now, the fabrics included in the maternity package have been in neutral colours, making them suitable for both girls and boys. The maternity package (56 useful items for the child and the mother) changes every year while staying true that its roots. The idea of giving a set of same clothes for all stresses the principle of all babies are born equal. Over the years, it has become increasingly environmentally friendly. Many countries have piloted the innovation and Scotland introduced “a baby box” in 2017."
The introduction in Ireland in 2023 of the Baby Bundle is a hopeful step towards supporting families and making that social investment in children.
GIVING A VOICE TO THOSE
WHO DON’T HAVE A VOICE
When you support Social Justice Ireland, you are tackling the causes of problems.
The EU Child Guarantee
The objective of the European Child Guarantee is to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing the access of children in need to a set of key services. The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan sets a target of reducing the number of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU by at least 5 million. The European Child Guarantee is identified by the Commission as one of the key policy tools of achieving this target. Its purpose is to reduce the gap between children in need and their better off peers in terms of access to key services and address the high economic and societal costs of child social exclusion and the intergenerational transmission of disadvantages.
The aim is to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing effective access of children in need to a set of key services:
- free early childhood education and care
- free education (including school-based activities and at least one healthy meal each school day)
- free healthcare
- healthy nutrition, and
- adequate housing.
Member States should identify children in need and within this group take into account, wherever appropriate in designing their national integrated measures, specific disadvantages experienced by:
- homeless children or children experiencing severe housing deprivation;
- children with a disability;
- children with a migrant background;
- children with a minority racial or ethnic background (particularly Roma);
- children being in alternative (especially institutional) care;
- children in precarious family situations.
Member States are invited to build an integrated and enabling policy framework to address social exclusion of children, focusing on breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage and reducing the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
European Union funds through the European Social Fund Plus will been targeted towards the achievement of the Child Guarantee. Those EU members states who have levels of child poverty or social exclusion above the EU average (of which Ireland is one), must allocate at least 5 per cent of their European Social Fund Plus to tackling child poverty. The European Commission has also identified the European Regional Development Fund REACT-EU, Invest-EU, the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Technical Support Instrument as funds which will equally support investments in enabling infrastructure, such as social housing and early childhood education and care facilities, as well as equipment, access to quality and mainstream services and implementing structural reforms.
The following policies should form part of Government’s National Action Plan to implement the European Child Guarantee:
- Ensure adequate income through the lifecycle, including adequate payments for children
- Ensure families have access to quality services, in particular childcare, early childhood education and care, healthcare and housing.
- Introduce State-led childcare. Affordable childcare and child-friendly employment arrangements are key requirements for greater labour market participation among young mothers
- Set ambitious headline national poverty targets and in addition set ambitious subsidiary poverty targets for vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households, those in social rented accommodation.
- Carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing proposed policy initiatives that impact on the income and public services on which many low-income households depend. This should include the poverty-proofing of all public policy initiatives.
- Establish a minimum social floor of income and services below which no person or household should fall.