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When it comes to supporting parents, the Canadian government is partial to nice platitudes and family-this, family-that (and maybe a few tax breaks) rather than policies that could change lives.

A few years ago our federal government decided to send out $100 cheques in lieu of a comprehensive national child care program, which was supposedly imminent during the last century when I had my first kid (in 1995). In Finland, the government has a grasp on how crucial the first three years are to better outcomes, social and educational.

They got a great idea way back in 1938: the government decided to give each expectant family a starter kit of onesies, hats, snowsuits, cloth diapers, bedding and baby toys — packaged in a box that could also be used as a newborn’s bed. Initially, this was done for low-income families, but by 1949 the program was extended to everyone.

Families do have the option of accepting 140€ in lieu of the box of baby things, but 90 per cent take the box because its contents are worth more. The box contents are, of course, terrifically cute and practical. The reason for implementing the policy is terrifically practical too — ensuring good maternal health and outcomes; in order to receive the box, expectant families have to schedule a prenatal visit before the fourth month of pregnancy.

Also note: parents of multiples qualify for multiple boxes — but then again, Finnish parents of multiples also qualify for an additional 10 weeks of benefits for each additional child.

Mothering magazine first wrote about the Finns’ tradition a few years ago when one of their writers moved to Finland; Michele Simeon excitedly carried her box home while hugely pregnant and marvelled that the clothing was all gender-neutral.

Finland has the world’s lowest infant mortality rate.

Finnish families get excited to see each new year’s choice of colours (they change each year, but are always gender-neutral, as is tradition in much of Europe). Peep the 2012-13 edition of the Finnish Baby Box right here and here.

sources: BBC + The Atlantic + Apartment Therapy + Mothering

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