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CHILDREN

Switzerland ranked ‘worst in Europe’ for being family-friendly

A study of family-friendly policies in OECD and EU countries released by the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) has ranked Switzerland lowest among European countries.

Switzerland ranked 'worst in Europe' for being family-friendly
Photo: AFP
The study, based on data from 2016, took into account national policies on paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, accessibility of childcare services offered up until school age (6 years old), and breast-feeding rates. 
 
Switzerland was ranked lowest among European countries (31st), just below Greece, Cyprus, and the United Kingdom.
 
 
This low ranking was due largely to a lack of fully-paid leave guaranteed to mothers, who get only eight weeks at full rate equivalent (or a total of 14 weeks at 80 percent of their salary), and fathers, who are not guaranteed any parental leave at the national level.
 
 

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Though the Swiss did slightly better in terms of childcare, they still found themselves in the lower half of the table when it came to childcare enrolment before and after 3 years of age.
 
The highest ranked country in the study was Sweden, which offers 35 weeks of fully-paid leave to mothers and 10 weeks to fathers, and where 97% of children aged 3-6 were enrolled in child care. Close behind Sweden were Norway, Iceland, and Estonia.
 
 

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Paid leave and childcare accessibility varied widely among the countries studied, and no country was consistently ranked highly in every factor considered. 
 
The top country in terms of maternity leave was Estonia, with 85 weeks at full pay, while the number one for parental leave was Japan, which offers 30.4 weeks, largely untaken by Japanese fathers. The only country to not offer any nationally-guaranteed full-pay parental leave was the United States.
 
Because data on childcare enrolment was not available in the study’s non-European countries, they were not ranked.
 
 
The report was released as part of UNICEF’s Early Moments Matter campaign, which aims to promote healthy brain development in young children.
 
“There is no time more critical to children’s brain development – and therefore their futures – than the earliest years of life,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children.

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CHILDREN

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

What can families anticipate with regard to raising children in Switzerland and in which ways does it differ from the United States? Here is a look at some of the main differences.

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Moving to a new country can come with a pretty big learning curve – especially if you’re moving with family.

Schools

Switzerland offers the choice between public, private, international, and boarding schools. Public schools are however the norm for the vast majority of kids – of about 5,000 schools in Switzerland, only about 300 are private.

International schools are a popular option for families that have been in international schools in other countries, or if they’re keen on their kids being immersed in and developing their English.

Some of the top boarding schools can be found in Switzerland, with families from all over the world sending their kids to them. Wait lists can be long, but this sleep-away option is available for kids ages 3-18. 

Approximately 95 percent of Swiss parents send their children to public schools because they are free and because the educational system is such high quality.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

Many international parents opt for public schools so their kids can pick up the local language and make local friends. Public schools in Switzerland are fantastic and your child will have access to a solid education complete with activities and outings.

There are physical education activities in addition to recess and bi-monthly trips for swimming lessons, and often ice skating in the winter. 

Parents and students alike will almost immediately notice a difference in the amount of homework that comes home.

Heather Wittkopp has two sons that go to a private school in the German-speaking region, near Zug. She recalls the struggles back in Pennsylvania.

“It was very stressful and we would constantly be studying. We fought about it. It was hours of homework. It was not a good situation.”

When asked if things have gotten better since their move to Switzerland about two-and-a-half years ago, her tone completely changes.

“Coming here to the international school was just eye opening. It’s amazing what they learn here, but it’s also that the pressure isn’t there. In the US you’re constantly memorising for tests. And here, it’s more like they’re teaching for the real world– like how to think outside the box.

They’re doing a lot of projects where you’re constantly with people and you have to collaborate and you have to work with all different types of people and figure out how you can work together in a team.”

Getting to-and-from school 

While the US has a heavy drive-to-school and drop-off culture, parents in Switzerland are actively encouraged not to use cars to bring kids to class. Most kids walk, though it’s common to see children on bicycles or scooters heading to school. 

There are high levels of social trust in Switzerland which means children, most as young as four and five years old, start learning to walk to and from school alone.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

Not only is this practice of raising independent children a family affair, the whole community is supportive and aware of it. There are crossing guards at all major streets who help students as they go to classes and as they go home for lunch or after school. 

When asked about her thoughts on the level of social trust and the independence culture, working mom, Lara Junod says, “It’s pretty amazing that in this day and age, you know, in 2022 with the world that we’re in, that this can still exist. It shows that people do look out in your community.”

Originally from New York, Lara has lived with her husband and six-year-old daughter in French-speaking Lausanne for the past three years. “They teach them here to be quite independent, quite young.”

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Home for lunch

A two-hour lunch break is scheduled into the day, allowing for students to head home and have lunch with their families. If the parents work, however, there are after-school programs for which children can be signed up.

These programs provide lunch and care for the two hour break and primary school children will return to school for the rest of the school day before coming back to the after-school care program.

In the evening when the program shuts down, children are either picked up or will walk back home on their own. 

READ MORE: What is emergency childcare in Switzerland and how do I access it? 

Extracurricular activities

Each canton offers weekly sports activities for children in kindergarten and primary school during the school year. The cost for the weekly activity is minimal and offers children something to do after school, gives them an opportunity to make new friends, and learn new athletic skills.

An example of some of these would be some of the traditional sports played in the US, but also fencing, sailing, American football, dance, and yoga, among others. 

Daycare Quality

What about babies and younger kids who aren’t old enough to start kindergarten? There is a mixture of for-profit and not-for-profit childcare throughout the country.

Some daycare centres offer full immersion in the local language while others offer bilingual care (the local language and English). In public, not-for-profit daycare, parents can still expect a child-focused curriculum that supports young children’s development and growth. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

It’s imperative to note that the cost for daycare in Switzerland is very high, costing around 2,500 Francs per month, per child, although some subsidies are available depending on the overall household income.

Due to this and in conjunction with traditional values, many children will stay home with a parent until they are of kindergarten age.

There are, however, play groups which allow for parents with babies and younger children to network and for both child and parent to socialise. Play groups can be for a couple hours at a time and are offered through churches and community centres several times per week. 

Home life

While things at home will probably carry on much as they would in the United States, there are some nuances to living in Switzerland.

For example, there are dedicated quiet hours to which everyone adheres.

From 10 o’clock at night until 7 A.M., people are quiet.

Additionally, there is a quiet hour from noon until 1P.M., so people can have a relaxed lunch and potentially quiet time for a lie down.

Finally, Sunday, in its entirety, is a quiet day.

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