What Kind of Family Planning Do We Need?
There is a change occurring in our collective consciousness: the notion that children are the personal interest of every family is being replaced with the understanding that children are the collective interest of the family and society (state). In ten years of independence we have reached a serious demographic crisis with no way out without an active parenthood policy on the state level. The parental allowance is the first active step by the state and it cannot be the last.
The situation of families and the demographic situation are tightly interwoven – the better and more secure children and parents feel in Estonia, the greater the likelihood that more children will be born. Apart from removing economic obstacles, people must be motivated to have children – make social mores “child- and family-friendly.” Several trends in current family policy are cause for concern – first of all, the fact that there is a sharp distinction drawn between measures promoting the birth rate and measures improving the quality of life for families. The latter is relegated to the background. The rapid rise in the cost of living has put many families below the poverty line, meaning the risk of poverty is clearly tied to the number of children in a family. Families that already have children want more long-term support in addition to short-term compensation packages. Second, the too-direct dependence of family planning to a family’s income reduces the incentive of people in low-income jobs to have children. making children a luxury, and in general marks a trend toward families with one or two children.
Third, it seems that we are headed toward replacing universal allowances for families with subsistence benefits. This will make parents dependents rather than productive members of society. Fourth, Estonian family policy lacks consistency. The program for implementing the previous government’s child and family policy paper has not been worked out.
The members of the movement Eesti Lapse Eest feel family policy should be:
- holistic (encompassing the birth rate as well as the quality of life of families with kids) and information based; every measure must be planned to take everyone into account and dovetail with other measures; the family policy should form an integral system with other walks of life in this country;
- should give people the freedom of choice – including the number of children desired and the desired amount of time spent at home with them;
- proceed from the principle that raising children is a necessary job for the community;
- proceed from the interests of children;
- proceed from the understanding that the material and intangible resources placed in children are a direct investment in the futuure.
As far as how every child in Estonia feels, and the opportunities open for them, is not a problem confined just to families with children but impacts, directly or indirectly, every Estonian today, both through ills such as drug abuse and crime but also our future – what kind of society we and our children will live in a few decades down the road.
Families expect these family policy decisions from the state. It is clear that some things must wait. No one expects instant gratification. First and foremost, families want to see a sign of good intentions.