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Minister Annika Saarikko: “The maternity package is a sign of a society that cares for its members”

To Annika Saarikko, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, the maternity package is very dear. According to her, the Finnish baby box is the jewel in the crown of the Finnish welfare society and a symbol of a family policy that evokes many positive thoughts.

– If you were to collect all the stories and feelings that people have towards the maternity package and put them in the actual box, you would not be able to close the lid, she says.

– The most ingenious thing when it comes to the maternity package is that the right to get a package is linked to the maternity clinic system. In order to get a maternity package, expecting mothers must have regular check-ups at a maternity clinic from the early stages of pregnancy. This has had a huge impact on national health.

In monetary terms, the package is now worth 140 euros, but the government has proposed an increase to 170 euros. Minister Saarikko hopes that the increase will lead to an even better quality.

– I have noticed that the content of the maternity package will often raise passionate discussion. How the increase of 30 euros will be spent will be for the experts to decide. But more important than the actual amount of products included in the package is that the products are durable and of good quality.

What will the maternity package of the future be like?

According to Annika Saarikko, the maternity package is a social innovation that could well be exported to other countries. She has also been pondering on how the package could be developed further in order to meet the needs of today’s families even better. Health technology products could for example be added in order to help monitor the babies’ health. Minister Saarikko is also favourable to the idea of adding services to support families and prevent problems.

– We should also be able to offer families support with the emotional impact of parenthood and, for example, develop applications and chat services through which you can ask questions or share any problems you may have.

The Minister would also like the maternity package to have a new name, because parenthood is not something that only concerns mothers.

– I think that many fathers would be pleased if the name was changed. Why not call it a baby package or a family package instead? she says.

– I am well aware that a change of name would spark passionate discussion. The maternity package, now in its 80th year, is such a treasured thing that any changes to it can be made only after careful consideration and discussion, she continues.

The maternity package creates a cultural bond

Annika Saarikko has personal experience of the maternity package from when her son Aarni was born three years ago. She remembers the moment very well, when she and her husband opened the package, took out the tiny garments and put them on a shelf in the wardrobe.

– When you receive the package, you realise that we live in a welfare society and it dawns on you that you will soon be experiencing a total change of life – you are actually going to have a baby.

Later on, when out in town, she thought that it was nice to see other parents with babies dressed in clothes that she recognised as being from the maternity package of the same year as her own. In a very concrete way, the maternity package creates a cultural bond between families with small children.

Thinking of other parents-to-be about to open their own maternity package, there is one thing Annika Saarikko wants to point out.

– I hope that to each and every one of these parents the maternity package will be a reminder of the fact that Finland, now celebrating its 100th year of independence, is a very good country for children and families. It is a sign that we have a social safety net and a society that cares for its members.

Text: Helinä Kujala
Photo: Nana Uitto