Young children may be the biggest losers of the government’s cabinet reshuffle late last week.
Responsibility for children aged 0-6 was moved from the Education Ministry to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Immigration. Young children traditionally fell under the social affairs umbrella before the current government moved the area to the Education Ministry after taking power in the autumn of 2011.
Critics argue that Social Affairs Ministry is already burdened with providing specialist services for at-risk or needy groups and that young children won’t receive the attention that they need.
“I am very surprised that they are moving responsibility for young children only a few years after establishing the new Children and Education Ministry.” Henning Pedersen, the chairman of the nursery teacher’s union, wrote in a press release. “After giving them greater priority in the former Children and Education Ministry, we now risk that they will be drowned between social problems, specialised social services and immigration politics.”
The government made a big deal out of moving responsibility for young children to the Education Ministry in 2011, arguing that it would create more streamlined and integrated policies for young people.
Speaking to Politiken newspaper, Andreas Rasch-Christensen from VIA University College in Aarhus argued that the new decision to move the responsibility for children again was entirely political.
“There are no professional arguments for splitting up [the fields],” he said. “We had finally received support for the idea that learning is a natural part of school, nurseries and daycares. This goes in the opposite direction.”
The government is made up of three parties – the Socialdemokraterne (S), Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) and Radikale – whose MPs are distributed between the 24 ministerial roles .
Annette Vilhelmsen (SF) was made the minister for business and growth after taking over as SF leader from Villy Søvndal, the foreign minister. The fit was never quite right, however, and according to Politiken, Vilhelmsen had been pushing to take over the Education Ministry from Christina Antorini (Socialdemokraterne).
S was unwilling to part with the ministry, however, and instead Vilhelmsen took over the Social Affairs Ministry from Karen Hækkerup (S) and was given the additional responsibility for young children up to the age of six.
The decision has split the government and a number of leading S members have expressed concern that the ministry would become over-burdened – an argument also voiced by far-left support party Enhedslisten (EL).
“I am very worried that responsibility for children will be drowned under the specialist services and integration cases,” Rosa Lund (EL) told Politiken.
In a written comment to Politiken newspaper, Vilhelmsen attempted to reassure critics that her new ministry would be capable of managing its remit.
“I am especially concerned with ensuring that all children are given the best opportunities for a good start in life,” she wrote. “I will work closely with my ministerial colleague Christine Antorini, the association of local councils (KL) and other actors in the field of helping young children.”
Attacking the issue from another angle, Pia Kjærsgaard from Dansk Folkeparti argued that immigration issues won’t get the attention it deserves within the new structure.
“I have never heard that Annette Vilhelmsen was interested in immigration politics,” Kjærsgaard told Ritzau. ”I am concerned that Annette Vilhelmsen won’t be able to handle it and will treat it as a secondary issue.”
Hoping to silence the criticism, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt explained that the decision wouldn’t impact the work that is done in any of the fields.
“It’s important to remember that even though something falls under one ministry, it can still easily be discussed across a government and that’s what we will do,” Thorning-Schmidt said. “Young children can sit in [both ministries]. We have moved them to the Social Affairs Ministry because we want to focus on marginalised children. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have to co-operate on all issues facing our youngest children.”