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Johanna Närvi, Minna Salmi and Johanna Lammi-Taskula

Childcare policies shape parents’ solutions between paid employment and care responsibilities. Finnish dualistic childcare policy provides parents with paid parental leave and a choice between cash-for-care benefits and day-care services for children under three. Paid employment is enabled while parents can also stay at home longer with young children. The system is allegedly gender neutral, but long leave periods are mainly taken by mothers, which weakens women’s position in the labour market. The financially supported home care is also related to children’s relatively low participation in early childhood education and care. ECEC attendance also varies according to socio-economic differences in mothers’ take-up of longer leave periods. Socio-economic differences in fathers’ parental leave use lead to children’s unequal possibilities to receive care from and form close bonds with their fathers. Furthermore, local authorities shape childcare policies by offering local supplements to childcare benefits and by deciding on how to apply the national legislation. This affects the options available to parents and increases regional inequalities between children. Development of care policies has included both gender equality and early childhood education rationales. We argue that childcare policies are an issue of both gender equality, social equality and children’s rights.