(This is not a Finnish baby box!)
A week ago, Katherine Zappone announced baby boxes would be given to all new parents in an attempt to increase the birth rate in Ireland.
Baby boxes were first introduced in Finland in 1938, when infant mortality stood at 65 per 1,000. The boxes contained clothes, nappies, a mattress, picture books and a teething toy. With the mattress in the bottom, the box doubled as a bed. They were introduced as part of a drive to bring down Finland’s infant mortality rate.
In Ireland, in 2018, however, they’re, at best, cute, and at worst, a waste of money. This government would be better serving their remit if they poured support into children who are already here. Here is an incomplete list of thing the government could better do with money to help the children who are already here:
- Lone parents need better supports, and clearer pathways back to employment / education that won’t penalise them.
- We need better supports for adults who were abused as children, so that they can parent better.
- We need more midwives, so pregnant people can have continuity of care.
- We need better mental health care for children.
- Our education system needs a complete overhaul (including better sex and relationship education).
- We need to provide permanent homes for the 3,000+ homeless children in Ireland at the moment.
We need to value the children we already have before we start spouting off about how to look like we’re making life better for children who aren’t even here yet. It is true that raising children is expensive. People are putting off having children, or having more children, if they are unsure that they will be able to mange to keep those children safe, healthy, housed, fed, and educated. A few nappies, and a couple of babygros in the bottom of a cardboard box are not going to encourage people to have more babies – but here are a few things that might:
- Affordable housing and I don’t (necessarily) mean state-subsidised housing, but houses where mortgages are easy to pay on one salary.
- Education that is aligned with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the education of the child ‘shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential. Currently, such education is not available in Ireland.
- An improved maternity system, with women at the centre of care. I have spoken with many women who – having been traumatised in Irish hospitals – are too afraid to have another child.
- Valuing the caring work that parents do: Currently, parents on social welfare are receiving €31 per week per child. If those same children were in foster care, the government would happily hand over between €325 and €352 per child per week to the foster parents.
Fix the leaky roof, and crumbling walls, of the house you live in before you start planning a fancy garden shed.