"In the Nordic countries multitasked family policy system helps families to reconcile family life and employment" (Forssen, 2000, p.16). The stresses and strains of the Canadian system are; therefore, largely absent from the Nordic system. Canada's system of social welfare, being largely after the fact, does not possess the same prescriptive effect as Scandinavia's program's of paid family leave, paid childcare, income redistribution, and so forth. The Nordic nations seek to prevent the problems arising by altering the fundamental situation of children's upbringing and family life.
Naturally, physical and mental health play major roles in relative rates of poverty. Canada is lucky, at least, to have a system of universal free medical care that ensures that children, as well as adults, receive a wide range of health services regardless of income. The system provides Canada's children with a safety net that is largely absent in the United States, and which compares, in general outline, with the resources available to children residing in the Nordic countries. Still, the Nordic focus on inclusiveness, family leave, and services such as free day care help further to alleviate the stresses of family life. By 1995, roughly half of all children in day care in Scandinavia were to be found in publicly-financed day care services. Under such an arrangement, work becomes separate from home life. Parents do not need to make a choice between making a living, and taking care of their children. The Canadian system still demands a considerable amount of juggling of responsibilities, calling on traditional arrangements between extended family, and budgeting of financial resources. The greater personal freedom that is achieved by the Nordic system can also foster a similar attitude of freedom and openness within the family household. Gone, as well, is the resentment that m9giht arise from being forced to give up school or promotion in order to stay at home to take care of the children. The distinction that might otherwise be drawn between traditionally male and female roles is also not as obvious, the provision of daycare and other services by the state assisting further in the blurring of gender lines and roles.
In Canada; however, certain kinds of families continue to suffer disproportionately. While the overall number of children of single mothers living in poverty has actually decreased slightly in recent years, the depth of poverty has actually increased (Reutter et al., 2006).
Much of this change can likely be attributed, once again, to the differing attitudes of evidenced by the two approaches. The inclusiveness of the Nordic system reveals a "blind" approach; one that does not seek to assign blame by stigmatizing certain lifestyles, or to alleviate child poverty by encouraging particular socially-acceptable family patterns. Rather, the Canadian method continues to adhere to traditional, or perceived traditional, notions of what constitutes a "real" family. Families not perceived as legitimate, or as genuinely desirable, remain the subject of discrimination, government aid programs actively or passively working against just such families. The differences between the Canadian and Nordic systems show clearly the continued influence of deep underlying social philosophy on the formulation of child anti-poverty programs:
Public beliefs about poverty are an important element of social exclusion / inclusion because they reflect the attitudes that may lead to exclusionary/inclusionary behaviours at interpersonal and institutional levels (Bullock, 1999; Lott, 2002). People's understanding of poverty will likely influence their interactions with people living in poverty (Bullock, 1999; Cozzarelli, Wilkinson and Tagler, 2001) and their support for poverty-related policies (Reutter et al., 2006)
Ultimately, the distinction speaks to a profound battle between what constitutes the actual goal of the child anti-poverty campaign. Both Canadians and Scandinavians make choices about the kind of society in which they would like to raise their children. They make decisions in regard to the values they wish to impart to their children. Canada's anti-poverty programs reveal a persistent adherence to traditional, almost Victorian, notions of individual responsibility, ideas that, on some levels, almost criminalize the poor. Under this regime, the poor are seen as lacking in the virtues necessary for achieving success and lifting themselves out of poverty. Poverty is a moral failing. For the people of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, on the other hand, poverty is something that can strike any family. The economic environment is often capricious, and even the best made plans can be upset by an economic downturn. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies are not disparaged as moral failings, being treated instead as events that could happen to almost anyone. Even marriage, evidently, is viewed as a matter of personal choice. Women and men are not to be guided into marriage simply because they have become parents; the Nordic system recognizing the additional problems that might arise from such an artificial arrangement.
The Nordic nations and Canada hold different views on what constitutes child poverty. Following closely the United Nations own position as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Nordic countries define child poverty in very broad terms. Under these systems child poverty encompasses virtually everything that might be considered to contribute to poverty of resources, as well as poverty of spirit. Economic disadvantage is no more central to this definition than quality of family life, peer relationships, access to educational opportunities, and general access to services. The United Nations employs six measures of child well-being, each of which contributes to the making of a happy, prosperous, and productive adult. The right to such happiness and productivity is deemed universally applicable regardless of family, ethnic, racial, or religious background. The Nordic nations, in particular, do not discriminate on the basis of a child's social background. By granting assistance equally to children in all kinds of families, they work toward the production of adults who enjoy equally the benefits of citizenship and human and civil rights. Childcare and assistance are spread widely and made available at the earliest possible point in time in order to prevent problems before they have a chance to develop.
In contrast, the Canadian definition of child poverty is substantially economic. Using traditional formulas of what constitutes economic disadvantage, the Canadian system attempts to raise the financial standing of those families most in need of additional funds. Nevertheless, these funds are not distributed equally. While frequently blind in theory, the Canadian programs tend to favor particular, socially-accepted kinds of families and environments. Blame - a factor largely absent form the Nordic approach - is, in fact, quite prominent in the Canadian system. Those who can be blamed will be. In a sense then, Canada's social safety net is more like private insurance that true transformative public assistance. If the government can get away with shifting responsibility to the impoverished family or individual, it will. Children who have the misfortune to grow up in families not considered normative are too frequently deemed victims of their parents' decisions, and so consigned to the bottom rungs of the social ladder. Such an approach only perpetuates the cycle of disadvantage and despair. While there is much that is good on a fundamental economic level about the Canadian approach to the alleviation of child poverty, the Canadian system can learn much from the Nordic system when it comes to understanding the root causes of child poverty. Ultimately, the two systems differ because of profound differences in social values.
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