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FAQ about supporting children and families

Children and families with children need special support and protection from the state and society as a whole. The extent to which contributions are made to the well-being of children and families will sooner or later be reflected in population health, education, crime, employment and the economy.

According to the Social Insurance Board, there are 155,000 families receiving family benefits and a total of approximately 260,000 children live in these families.

  • About half of families have one child (51%), families with two children 35% and families with three or more children 14% of all families.
  • Almost half of families with children live in Harju County, most of them (67%) in Tallinn. Families in Harju County are more likely to have one or two children. Families with three or more children make up 12% of all families with children. The share of families with many children is equally small in Ida-Viru County.
  • Families with many children are most common in Järva and Põlva counties (21% of all families). One family with 14 children receiving child support. 

As of the first quarter of 2022, the Social Insurance Board:

  • 23,687 families and 78,296 children receive support for families with many children, including 117 families with seven or more children.
  • 8,804 parents and 1,0222 children receive single parent support.
  • 4,627 families receive a survivor's pension.

Rohkem sotsiaalkaitse statistikat: Sotsiaalkindlustusameti kodulehelt https://sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/et/asutus-kontaktid/statistika-ja-aruandlus 

More social protection statistics: on the website of the Social Insurance Board https://sotsiaskindlustusamet.ee/et/asutus-kontaktid/statistika-ja-aruandlus

According to Statistics Estonia, there were 20,400 households with one adult and one child / children in 2021, which accounted for 13% of all households with children. The number of children in single parent households was 28,900.

In 2021, a total of approximately 653 million euros in benefits were paid to families.

•    Approximately 310 million euros for family benefits;
•    Approximately 280 million euros for parental benefit;
•    Maternity benefit of approx. 58 million euros;
•    Maintenance benefit of about 5 million euros.

The number of financial benefits per child has increased since 2015. The Estonian parental benefit system is one of the most generous in the world, both in terms of the length of the period covered by the benefit and the amount of the benefit.

In terms of cash benefits paid to children and families, Estonia shares 1st to 3rd place with Luxembourg and Poland – in all three countries, cash benefits accounted for 2.3% of GDP.

If we look at the total social protection benefits provided to children and families, i.e., both financial benefits and services, their share in 2019 was also 2.3% (1.6% in 2014). This means that in the case of Estonia, social protection benefits for children and families are mainly financial benefits and the share of services is low (Eurostat methodology does not take into account education expenditure).

The share of expenditure on children and families in GDP is at the same level as the EU average. The Nordic countries, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and Poland contribute more than us.

Modern and up-to-date family benefits - both parental benefits and monthly family benefits - are one of the cornerstones of family policy. However, the role of family benefits in increasing the number of births is very difficult to measure, as financial support is not the only factor influencing birth rates that motivates families to have children.

It is the general societal attitude and regulations in support of parents (e.g., security in the labour market, gender equality) that also influence the decision to have children. In addition, family benefits provide financial security. Demographers have also pointed out that direct measures of public family policy are only one part of the set of factors influencing the birth rate, and therefore unrealistic expectations cannot be placed on benefits.

If we look at the growth and decline in the birth rate in Estonia in recent decades, it is safe to say that the birth of a child is planned in conditions that are more economically secure and prosperous. Long enough has elapsed since the introduction of parental benefit as one of the key measures to support births, to see how it has affected the average number of children born to women who are in the end of their fertile age. Today, women in their early 40s have slightly more children on average than those in the age groups whose fertile age fell for most of the time when family benefits were lower. Smaller increases in child benefit have also been followed by a small increase in birth rates, but the clearest effect on the number of births was seen when the benefit for families with many children was created – after its creation on 1st of July 2017, when support for families with three or more children increased significantly, more third and subsequent children were born in 2018 and 2019 than before. Both in the number of children and the share of all births. Given the decline in the number of women of childbearing age, despite two years of health crisis, the number and share of third and subsequent children of all births has remained higher than before the benefit. 

The number of births of the first children has fallen in recent years, but the number of women aged 25-29 is also falling the fastest. This is the age group where, on average, a woman gives birth to her first child. While in the age group 20-24 the first children are born less and less often, in the age group 30-34 the first children are born more than before. However, the shift in the birth of the first child to later in life can lead to an increase in infertility. Therefore, monitoring the occurrence of first and second births is very important in policy-making.

According to Statistics Estonia, 13,272 children were born in 2021, which is 63 children more than a year earlier. Although as few children as in the last two years were born in Estonia earlier in 2003, these figures cannot be directly compared. The number of women of childbearing age was then more than a sixth higher. The total fertility rate, which shows the approximate average number of children per woman, was 1.37 in 2003, but now, in 2021, it is 1.61. In 2018, when the birth rate increased due to the increase in the number of births of third children, the total fertility rate was 1.67, but fell to a slightly lower level (1.58) two years later (2020).

Data on health and well-being are also collected from children themselves. According to the Children's Rights and Parenting Survey, in 2018, 82% of children in grades 4-11 were generally satisfied with their lives.

According to the School Pupil Health Behaviour Survey, in 2018, 87% of 11-, 13- and 15-year-old children in Estonia were satisfied with their lives. This result has improved by about 10% since 2002 (76-87%).

Young people whose family is in a better financial situation and who have an easy time talking to their mother or father are more satisfied with their lives and health. These assessments are also positively influenced by a pleasant school environment, a sense of well-being at school, lower risk behaviour and good mental health.

  • As of 2020, there are 36,500 children in need in Estonia, i.e., 14% of all children need more or less additional support from the social, educational and / or health care sectors. Nearly 9,000 children have been diagnosed with a disability and more than 30% of parents caring for a disabled child do not work. Many services and support measures are provided to children in need and their families, but parents say that getting help is often difficult and time-consuming and does not support problem prevention.
  • The assessment of the child's need for help and the provision of help is fragmented between different areas and institutions, the roles of the parties are unclear and there is no comprehensive overview of the support needed by the family. There are few comprehensive services for children with special needs, and many services are linked to the severity of the disability, which reduces the scope for providing preventive and prompt care.
  • There has been a significant increase in the number of children with mental health problems. According to the latest School Health Behaviour Survey (2017/2018), 26% of boys and 40% of girls have depressive episodes in the last 30 days, compared to 18% and 32% in 2009/2010. Children's helplines are also increasingly being used for child mental health issues, including self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Mental health services are not sufficiently available.
  • 2.5% of Estonian children live in absolute poverty (nearly 6,500 children) and 15.2% of children in relative poverty (nearly 38,900 children). When comparing different family types, single-parent (mostly mother) families are at the highest risk of poverty, of whom 5.3% live in absolute poverty and 27.3% in relative poverty. While effective steps have been taken in recent years to provide financial support for families with many children (support for families with many children), support measures for parents raising children alone have not been modernized.
  • There is a lack of parental education and general support for parents of children of different ages. There is a need for community-based prevention and family work centres where families can receive timely and expert help in raising children, being parents and partners, and dealing with a child's need for help.
  • Since January 2022, the Ministry of Social Affairs, under the leadership of the Public Sector Innovation Team of the State Chancellery, has been looking for solutions to support single-parent families with representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Social Insurance Board and Rae Parish.

  • “What does a single parent miss the most?” We asked this from 29 single parents to understand what are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed. Although we interviewed single parents more broadly to map their needs, the focus was primarily on children without paternity leave, i.e., those families for whom the state has been paying support in the amount of 19.18 euros for 20 years.

  •  It turned out that the support needs of single parents are much wider than just financial support. The availability of financial support certainly cannot be underestimated in terms of economic security, but the biggest concern was the chronic lack of time, as the role of two parents and being a super logistic must be fulfilled at the same time.

  • There is also a lack of flexible childcare that would help resolve crisis situations when the kindergarten is closed. But also, in situations where the child's sole parent is ill, for example.

  • There is a high expectation of better access to hobby education, but also to counselling a relationship even before the birth of a child. In the opinion of the interviewed single parents, this would sometimes help to prevent the parents' relationship from being broken before or after the birth of the child and the consequent absence of paternity on the child's birth certificate.

  • In the autumn, as part of the public sector innovation program, we plan to launch a pilot project in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and local government vital statistics officials, which will provide more effective counselling on childbirth registration, as well as support from various specialists (for example, a lawyer, a social worker, victim support).

  • One of the reasons given for not establishing paternity is that the mother does not want to share custody of the child with the father. However, there is a solution for this: when registering the birth / paternity of a child, a non-married parent must express a wish to leave custody to only one of the parents (§ 117 (2) PKS) – parents can jointly decide whether they have joint custody or to one parent. Even in the case of subsequent establishment of paternity in court, custody does not arise automatically upon establishment of paternity, but the court considers separately whether granting custody to the father is in the best interests of the child.

  • As a next step, we plan to draw our attention to the fact that the child's father would be already involved in the stage of pregnancy and parents would be more effectively supported and counselled by various specialists (family counsellors, midwives, social workers, etc.) during pregnancy.

  • In parallel, we address other important concerns of single parents – creating flexible childcare and community support options and designing financial support so that all single parents are supported in the best possible way.

o    Creating a family-friendly environment through the development of services and modernization of support measures for couple and family relationships and parental education.
o    Renewing child protection arrangements to ensure effective and targeted assistance to children in need through cross-sectoral cooperation.
o    Establishment of a support system for children with special needs, which would enable the need for assistance to be identified quickly, facilitate the receipt of assistance appropriate to the needs and ensure the necessary support measures, especially in the child's daily stay.
o    Creating a smooth journey for abused children from noticing the need for help to getting the needed help.
o    Providing needs-based assistance and support to children and their families with high needs and complex problems.
o    Ensuring opportunities for children in need of substitute care to grow up in a family instead of institutions, need-based support for young people leaving substitution care to live on their own and ensuring good quality of substitution and follow-up care.

Last updated: 16.06.2023