‘Do Father-Friendly Policies Promote Father-Friendly Child-Rearing Practices? A Review of Swedish Parental Leave and Child Health Centers’ was published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies (2012). We reviewed the literature on how parental leave policies in Sweden have influenced two well-defined areas of early father involvement: participating in parental leave and at visits/activities at the Child Health Centers.
Sweden has one of the most comprehensive and egalitarian parental leave policies in the world, permitting parents to take 480 days off of work, receive 80% of their pay for the first 15 months, and divide their leave however they see fit, barring that both parents receive 2 months of parental leave that is exclusive to them. Additionally, fathers are permitted to take the first ten working days off to be at home with his family.
Most parents, especially mothers, use parental leave throughout their infant’s first year. During the parents’ time off from work, nearly all Swedish parents (95–99%) utilize the Child Health Centers between 11 and 13 times during the infant’s first year of life. The Child Health Centers help to monitor a child’s growth and development, provide parenting support, immunizations, health education, health screenings, and provide referral sources if the child has any special needs. However, fathers only use 22% of all parental leave days.
Studies have pointed out that fathers may not use parental leave because of corporate, maternal, and financial attitudes. Despite the Child Health Centers’ policy of including both parents, fathers do not utilize the Child Health Centers to the same extent as mothers, because they are mainly only open during normal working hours, they are dominated by females (staff and mothers), and many conversations during the child’s first year are directed towards mothers (i.e. breastfeeding).
Swedish fathers have barriers to utilizing parental leave and have barriers at the Child Health Centers; therefore, fathers may not learn about their child’s health (i.e. growth and development) during the most formative years. This empowers mothers, since they are learning about their child’s health, and therefore become the child’s health expert and have formed relationships with the Swedish child health nurses. This may discourage fathers from taking an active role in their child’s health care; thus barriers need to be removed so that fathers can participate more in their young child’s health, if the Swedish health care system is to be more egalitarian.