9. Improving family policy in Spain

Family support in Spain is comprehensive but insufficient and fragmented. Its insufficiencies relate to comparatively low benefit amounts that leave even families that receive them at a high risk of poverty. Its fragmentations relate to a piecemeal adaption of the legal framework for family policy to changes in the profile of the ‘typical’ Spanish family and to increased needs of certain families, but with different conditions for receiving certain allowances or tax advantages across different types of benefits and across the national territory.

There is currently a political will to introduce national-level reforms of the Spanish family support system. The General Directorate of Family Diversity and Social Services of the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030 requested the support of the Directorate General for Structural Reform Support (DG REFORM) of the European Commission and the Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs of the OECD for the design of a White Paper for a new national framework on family support and protection. The present report is the final output of this project.

The below recommendations build upon Part I of this report on the current situation of family support and protection in Spain and upon Part II on good practices in other EU countries, as well as numerous interactions with Spanish stakeholders and international experts. The recommendations are intended to highlight directions for reform based on elements of policies and programmes from other countries which, properly adapted and integrated into the overall Spanish policy landscape, could point towards ways of addressing certain weaknesses of current Spanish family policy.

The structure of the recommendations is as follows: The first part focuses on selected features a new legal framework for family policy could incorporate. The second part covers policy measures to improve family well-being through reducing child poverty and making family life easier for all. The third and final section discusses monitoring and evaluation instruments that can be incorporated in future policies and programmes. These different elements can reinforce each other: A legal framework that introduces harmonised definitions for family units and common criteria to assess economic resources can broaden the number of families who are eligible for different benefits and make access conditions more transparent, and thereby lower child poverty and improve family well-being. Creating a monitoring and evaluation system that provides feedback on the impact of policies can provide useful information for further policy design and implementation.

Over the past few decades, the profile of Spanish families and views on gender roles and family diversity have shifted quite dramatically. Families have on average become smaller, and the share of children living with two married parents has declined. Over the same period, women entered the labour market in much greater numbers, and many fewer individuals believe that a mother’s place is only in the domestic sphere. Fathers on average still spend less time caring for their children and doing household chores than mothers do, but the amount of time they spend on these unpaid work tasks has nonetheless increased.

While family law has evolved quite strongly alongside these societal changes, family policy – the combination of benefits, services, tax breaks and leave arrangements that support family members in raising and providing care to minor children and other dependent persons – has undergone some alterations but few major reforms. With regards to family law, it has become possible for same-sex couples to get married, for all married partners to get divorced, and for separating and divorcing parents to share physical custody for their children. With regards to family policy, the only national legal framework currently in place is the 2003 Law regarding the Protection of Large Families, which builds on prior versions of the law. The law grants large-family status to families with three or more children, as well as to smaller families facing certain challenges such as the death of a parent or the disability of a family member. Non-widowed and non-disabled single parent families with fewer than three children currently do not receive benefits under the large family law, but different other laws and regulations and some Autonomous Communities do make specific reference to their status.

The ‘Law of large families’ has already recognised other situations of particular needs and could be the basis for an expanded legal framework. Current special situations concern families with disability or a parent death, but for example leave out single-parent families or families that have higher needs for other reasons.

  • Consider options for the replacement or extension of the ‘Law on the protection of large families’. The goal of an extension or replacement of the large family law would be to recognise more situations of additional need than the current law does. Advantages of extending the current large family law are that, first, this extension would likely leave existing entitlements in place and thus easier to move forward politically and, second, the framework is well established in Spanish administrative practice and well-known by the public. One advantage of completely replacing the existing with a new law would be that it could allow more targeting towards families that are truly in need of support. Another advantage is that it could be structured as a true ‘framework law’ that includes harmonised definitions of different types of families or family situations and of family resources that other laws could refer to.

Different benefit and tax laws currently use different definitions of the family unit and of specific types of families despite pursuing similar goals. Whether or not parents are married can also influence eligibility to benefits and thus affect what resources children receive. For example, there may be certain tax savings related to joint children of married or single parents not available for joint children of unmarried parents.

  • Include definitions on the family unit and specific types of family situations in a general and basic state framework. It would avoid current inconsistencies and gaps, clarify eligibilities for families and would be the fastest way to unify the requirements for rights and services guaranteed by basic state law. A definition that aligns more closely to the ‘economic or functional unit’ (individuals living together who share resources) rather than to ‘family bond’ (individuals living together related by blood, marriage, or adoption) may make sense. To ensure equal treatment, it is important to use easily enforceable and common criteria that accurately reflect the household’s budget constraints and expense sharing. For instance, in Denmark, resource sharing is assumed if cohabiters are 25 years or older, have a shared residence and have either a child or some other indicator that they are a couple, such as a joint bank account or a shared mortgage. In France, a bundle of concordant evidence such as joint property, water and electricity consumption, the existence of a single home insurance contract or the presence of a child for whom one parent assumes financial responsibility and the other receives family benefits can be used. If individuals wish to be treated as independent units, they may for example be asked to show evidence that they separately pay for rent and food.

  • Create a consistent single-parent definition. Any regulation dealing with defining single parenthood as a protected situation faces the dilemma of whether to expand the concept from the status of single-parent family as a specific family structure to the situation of single parenthood that focuses on social risks similar to those typically linked to single-parent families, despite there being another parent responsible for the children. Such regulation also has to deal with the difficulty of identifying single parent families in situations where parents may have new partners or live with extended family or with roommates, while at the same time not creating too important disincentives for individuals to enter stable cohabitating partnerships or new marriages. In France, parents are considered as single parents when they are single, divorced, separated, or widowed with dependent children who are already born or who are due to be born, do not live in a couple, and do not share their income and costs with a partner, cohabitee or civil partner. Living with roommates, parents or other relatives does not invalidate the single-parent status, while a temporary geographic separation of a couple does not constitute a situation of single parenthood. In case of shared physical custody, both parents can claim the single parent status on their tax form, but will split any benefits or tax advantages. To avoid that cohabitating partners fraudulently claim single parent status, different administrations may combine their data to detect individuals who claim to live apart but in reality do not. But in general, the gains in welfare of granting benefits to single-parent families that require them likely far outweigh the risk of fraud.

  • Establish a clear rule in case of separations. Currently, when families separate, some benefits are granted to mothers only, others to the first parent who applies or who lives with the children, and yet others to both parents in proportion to their custodial time. Replacing these separate by a single rule in this area would be helpful. The most suitable rule in the context of Spanish law remains to be determined, though granting it to the first applicant could be ruled out as the best-sense rule. In some countries, benefits flow to the family unit in which the child spends 60% or more of his or her time. In some instances, when parents split custody, the benefit is either split between both parents or allocated to the lower-income parent if both parents agree.

  • Clarify the treatment of de-facto couples. If the granting of benefits is tied to a functional rather than family-bond definition, it would stand to reason that the tax treatment of de-facto couples should be harmonised accordingly. The precise way in which this could be accomplished needs to be studied in more detail.

Even once there is a common definition of the family unit to determine eligibility for different means-tested benefits and tax breaks, eligibility may still vary because different programmes may have different ways of assessing total family income. Different regulations refer to different economic units, such as families based on kinship bonds, households, unidades de convivencia etc., and allocate the total income of the economic unit to family members in different ways. Different regulations include and exclude particular income sources and assets in different ways and deal differently with temporary situations of formal employment. This is particularly apparent when it comes to child maintenance payments, which are disregarded in some cases but in other cases are not. Then, when a payment does not actually arrive, the insolvency of the other parent or the impossibility of enforcing a support order have to be proven in order to receive benefits such as the unemployment subsidy or some regional minimum income benefits. Finally, different regulations peg thresholds to different indices such as the minimum wage and the IPREM.

  • Define a common way to assess the economic resources of family units. The feasibility of general criteria for implementing the means test in these programmes, including detailed substantive and procedural criteria to assess the economic capacity of the members of the unit and the relevance of legal maintenance obligations towards or from third parties, could be a step forward improving objectivity and efficiency. The total income of all individuals belonging to the same family unit may be taken into account, as is the case for many benefits for example in England and France. This would also include the resources of married or cohabitating partners even if they do not have joint children. The implicit support obligation towards step-children that this implies would only exist while the couple in question is in fact living together and would end in the case of a split. Rules on which assets should and should not be considered when determining need could also be harmonised.

  • Consider the establishment of a centralised agency to assess economic resources. The role of a centralised agency, such as the family allowance fund in France, or of the tax agency, to assess the economic resources of families and determine the benefits and costs of child services for parents could be considered for Spain.

  • Include child support payments and obligations in economic resource assessments. For family units receiving child support payments, these should naturally be counted among income sources. However, only payments that are actually received (rather than those that should be received) should be taken into account; with an obligation for a benefit-receiving family to report unanticipated swings in child support or other private transfers they received periodically (such as every six months). In contrast, for individuals who have child support obligations, the outgoing payments should be deducted from the total income of their family unit or single household for the purposes of economic resource assessments for benefit receipt.

  • Peg thresholds to the same index. In order to reduce administrative costs and create more transparency for families, it would make sense to link eligibility thresholds to a common rather than different indices. The choice of a common index would not preclude varying the eligibility threshold itself through setting lower and higher multiplication factors of the index in order to for example have one benefit that only targets families at risk of poverty while another is open to families with slightly higher income levels as well.

Certain benefits and tax treatments can vary from one Autonomous Community to another. Some have enacted strategic family plans and others have introduced new benefits for families or adjusted family tax deductions. In line with regional autonomy, families in similar situations can receive different benefits and may potentially lose or gain financially when moving from one part of the country to another.

  • Define a minimum protection for families at the national level in co-ordination with the Autonomous Communities. The Constitutional Court has pointed out that basic state law must ensure “the minimum common standard in each matter”, but “leaving enough margin to the Autonomous Communities for the exercise of their powers”. Therefore, a basic national legal framework on family policy is constitutionally feasible and should be able to determine priorities, avoid territorial inconsistencies, and guarantee minimum levels of protection. The Autonomous Communities should be involved in the process of creating this national framework as they will have to align their own regulations with it so that it can lead to a more consistent use of fiscal measures to promote family well-being. An example of a national-level law that created such a national minimum is the Swiss federal law on family allowances that went into effect in 2009. Through the law, the Confederation prescribes minimum amounts for the child and education allowances, but the cantons are allowed to be more generous than these federal regulations if they choose to do so. When the law was introduced, a number of cantons already offered allowances at or above the minimum amounts, but others had to raise theirs. The cantons may also pay birth and adoption allowance, but if they do they also have to meet federally-set minimum levels. The cantons are fully responsible for their own family allowance fund.

Different families struggle with different challenges that may negatively affect their well-being. Children living with parents who have a low income or irregular or no employment may be at risk of poverty. Indeed, nearly one in five children in Spain lived in relative income poverty in 2018. And families of any income level may find it difficult to reconcile their work and family life or encounter parenting difficulties. This section therefore first focuses on recommendations for reducing child poverty and then on measures that could serve to make family life easier for all.

The comprehensiveness and, in some cases, costliness, of these recommendations may be at odds with budgetary pressures on family policies and support, which have always existed but may become even more persistent as a result of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. If trade-offs have to be made between implementing policies, evidence suggests that the policies should be favoured that maintain and, where possible, increase spending on the youngest and most vulnerable children. Starting to spend early on children is efficient, as children’s behaviours and achievements are still more malleable, and contributes to equity. Investments in universal services may also be extremely worthwhile, as for example lunch services in secondary schools would benefit low- and higher-income families alike and could be provided in a cost-effective way.

Existing policies need to be strengthened in various ways in order to reduce the persistent share of about one in five children in Spain being at risk of poverty. Understanding the risk factors that are related to poverty, such as family structure and the economic environment, is a first important step to address and lower childhood poverty. One set of policies aims at decreasing poverty through increasing pre-transfer income, for example through reducing barriers that can make it difficult for parents to be fully engaged in the labour market, and generally through addressing market failures that make life more difficult for low-income families. Another set of policies relates to increases of post-transfer income through adjustments of taxes and benefits, such as child benefits, child support allowances and orphan’s allowances. A good balance between the two sets of policies, and between the goals of protecting families from (uninsurable) risks and of promoting independence is essential but difficult to achieve.

Rethinking family policy from a children’s right perspective to a minimum living standard and connecting family policy with a comprehensive strategy against childhood poverty could offer a way forward.

  • Prioritising preventative measures and treating children equally through ensuring equal access to opportunities and protections for all children. It makes sense to consider models of social support more focused on the children than on the type of family in which he or she is living in a given moment. In particular, children’s right to support should be independent of their parents’ status. A mix of universal services and benefits, such as a universal child allowance and broadened access to earliest childcare and after-school programmes, in combination with means-tested benefits and targeted family services could achieve this goal.

Since parental unemployment, underemployment and inactivity in particular of single parents is an important risk factor for childhood poverty, policies to support parents’ engagement in the labour market would contribute to reducing childhood poverty. However, while bringing all non-working parents into work could nearly half the rate of families with children living in poverty, the quality of employment is also decisive as an important share of working families continues to have an income below the poverty threshold.

  • Promote policies that help parents take up paid employment. Short parental leaves, difficulties in finding a day care spot or after-school care and inflexible work hours can all prevent parents in general and single parents in particular from finding employment or extending their working hours. Strengthening policies in these areas, as discussed in the relevant recommendations of the ‘making family life easier for all’ section, may be particularly impactful for low-income families who currently have a lower participation in early childhood care and education and in formal after-school care, and who often work in jobs in which flexibility is inherently more difficult to attain. Going beyond family policy, helping remove barriers to labour market participation, such as unaddressed health issues and social problems, for the most disadvantaged through intensive social and employment services would be important. Low-skilled individuals should have access to training opportunities that suit their competences and the local labour market conditions; and in the longer term, the education system should aim to equip all young people with the necessary skills to succeed.

  • Ensure that working parents have adequate income. The Spanish tax and benefit systems does not discourage the employment of the second earner in a two-parent family or that of a single parent as much as elsewhere. However, a detailed assessment of whether work ‘pays for itself’ in all regions and cities even after the costs of childcare have been deducted could still be worthwhile. Considering the relatively low salaries many Spanish employees have to deal with and a comparatively high prevalence of informal employment, specific targeted in-work benefits could be considered as well.

Child support in the case of divorce or separation often present an important source of income for families that receive it, but non-payment is frequent (though comparable data are difficult to access). In light of these facts, Spain introduced an advance child support payment for families in which child support is not paid, but the conditions are strict, the duration limited and the amount low. Further strengthening the enforcement of child maintenance obligations is a particularly important policy tool for improving the situation of single-parent households.

  • Guarantee child support payments to a larger degree. Child support can be guaranteed in by the state (in Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Sweden); by local authorities (in the Czech Republic and Finland); by special funds (in Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal); or by a special administrative agency (in Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom). For example, in Germany, the maximum duration of the advance payment was recently extended from 72 months (compared to 18 months in Spain) to an unlimited duration as long as the child in question is a minor. The advance payment should not be contingent on a court order establishing that the other parent is incapable of paying.

  • Make it easier to enforce child support obligations. In OECD countries, repercussions for the non-payment of child maintenance by the non-custodial parent can range from enforced payment, salary deductions, seizure of assets and bank accounts, and, in some countries, imprisonment. Several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and more recently France, have strengthened their systems to assist parents pursuing their claims and to help them take the appropriate administrative and/or legal steps. Previously in France, enforcement was difficult; but the 2020 creation of a new public service for the financial intermediation of alimony has made the process much easier. The parent who owes support pays it each month to the agency, which transfers it to the receiving family. If the debtor parent fails to pay, the agency immediately initiates a procedure to recover the unpaid amount from the debtor parent and pays the eligible creditor parent the family support allowance (EUR 116.57 per month and per child). This financial intermediation can also allow to ease tensions between separated parents, so that they can focus on the education and development of their child(ren).

  • Adapt payment obligations to changing circumstances and help non-custodial parents be self-sufficient. Parents with a child support obligation whose circumstances change considerably can already request a change to the payment amounts, but this has to be established through a petition to the court if the parent receiving the child support does not agree to the change. This can leave many parents with the obligation to pay in difficulties when trying to adjust the amount they have to pay. Improvements are also needed as regards the criteria and procedures for assessing child-related costs borne by non-custodial parents when setting up eligibility criteria for welfare benefits or tax breaks. For instance, in France, each parent can now receive a housing allowance in cases of shared custody, prorated by the amount of time the child spends time with each. Moreover, helping non-custodial parents be self-sufficient is also key to enabling them to fulfil their obligations in the long-run. Exploring the feasibility of “self-sufficiency” supports conditional on fulfilling one’s maintenance duties could reduce the current systemic infringement of child support orders.

The persistently high child poverty rate despite the existence of minimum income benefits suggests that the targeting and the amounts of the latter are not sufficient to significantly reduce the number of children at risk of poverty. Moreover, even families whose incomes put them above the poverty line may struggle with certain child-related expenses such as needed more square metres of housing or childcare. In light of this situation, the introduction of a universal child benefit, which exist in many OECD countries, could be considered.

  • Explore the potential impact on child poverty. Microsimulation models could be used to project the poverty-reducing impact of a universal benefit in comparison to a targeted benefit under different assumptions about targeting efficiency. The results could be used in conjunction with estimates about administrative and financial costs in a cost-benefit analysis prior to the introduction of any new benefit. Within this exercise, the impacts of shifting financing from tax deductions to universal or targeted benefits could also be assessed.

  • Protect families from poverty in the child’s first years. Before the age of three, and more often immediately following birth, poverty risks for families with young children are at their highest. At the same time, these years are extremely important for child development and the construction of positive family bonds. In light of budget pressures and the importance of the earliest years for child development, benefits could be particularly concentrated on the first three years of life. For example, France offers means-tested birth/adoption grants and a basic monthly allowance up to the third birthday of the child. Cash payments could also be combined with special financial supports for vulnerable families. Following the example of certain countries, the value of cash benefits and tax deductions could be equalised, and parents could be allowed to choose whether they would receive child support as a benefit or as a tax deduction.

  • Prevent the erosion of benefit amounts through scheduled updates or pegs to a wage index. Social benefit payment rates are often either set at a given rate or linked to a price or minimum wage index rather than to wages. This means that over time, their poverty-reducing power diminishes. Ensuring that social benefits grow at the same rate as median wages can help address this issue.

Spanish social spending is in line with that in many other countries, but with a comparatively large share going to unemployment benefits and a comparatively low share going to family benefits. As a result, the reduction in childhood poverty rates due to social benefits is lower in Spain than in any other EU country that is a member of the OECD. The amounts dispersed by a universal child benefit and an adjusted child support scheme are unlikely to be sufficiently large to lift a substantial share of affected children and adolescents out of poverty, implying that a more comprehensive strategy is needed.

  • Increase social spending. Estimations suggest that across OECD countries from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s, a 1% increase in per capita social expenditure is associated with a 1% reduction in the relative child poverty rate; and that if important shares are directed to lower-income households, the impact is larger. If unemployment benefits, which fulfil an important insurance function, are to be maintained at current levels, then increases in overall social spending are an important lever to decrease child poverty. For example, to reach the OECD average spending on cash benefits for families as a share of GDP, Spain would have to more than double its expenditures. The specific benefits that are best suited to reach low-income households should be studied carefully, but may for example include increased levels of the Ingreso Mínimo Vital potentially in combination with certain activation requirements.

  • Study the efficiency and equity impacts of the tax-benefit system. Given that tax deductions do not benefit low-income households, poor households are not necessarily the largest beneficiaries of the tax-benefit system. A careful analysis of the benefit and tax profiles of different types of households in terms of composition and income could allow an assessment of the degree of progressivity of the current and any proposed future tax-benefit system; and could point towards reallocations of benefits or tax deductions that could benefit poor, lower- and middle-income households. In addition, the extent of implicit tax rates on activity under the current and any proposed future system also need to considered. The insights of these different analyses can then be used to assess to what extent tax rules are in harmony or in opposition to the goals of family and other policy areas.

  • Explore barriers experienced by poor households. Income below the poverty threshold may be a transitory phenomenon for many families that for example have to re-calibrate after a job loss or a divorce; but for others, in can be a situation that lasts for many years or even decades. These families may experience severe material or social deprivation and find it difficult to change their situation, and even generous transfers and services may only alleviate rather than solve the situation. In order to be able to design a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, a thorough understanding of the barriers chronically poor families face and of possible levers to reduce them is needed. Existing academic studies and analyses of large-scale household surveys and possibly administrative data can certainly provide important insights; but these need to be complemented by allowing families to speak for themselves and explain their struggles and needs.

  • Provide integrated services with low barriers. Vulnerable families with the highest service needs are often those least likely to access services, making it vital to make the access to services as low-barrier as possible. Since school attendance is mandatory and teachers are in close contact with their students, schools are in an ideal situation to be able to identify children who may be experiencing difficulties or need extra support and to reach out to them and their parents without visibly singling them out; and to deliver services that all parents need. For example, in many countries, certain basic health checks or vaccinations are carried out in kindergartens or school, sparing parents the additional effort of having to make an appointment and taking their child to the doctor. School counsellors may be in a position to offer psychological assistance to adolescence, as is for example the case in Copenhagen. Once children or families are in contact with a social service provider, the more services can be provided in one location or the less bureaucratic transfers from one part of the system to another are, the more likely it is that families with multiple assistance needs can actually see them addressed. For example, the YMCA in Halifax (Canada) provides services include housing, anti-human trafficking support, emergency employment programmes, childcare and early learning, microloans, financial literacy, income tax clinics, and peer leadership training through multidisciplinary teams.

Parents’ marital status influences the protection and income that children and other family members receive in case of parental death. Widow(er)’s pensions are usually restricted to married couples or, in some cases, registered partners, though a few such as Hungary, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom also extend the possibility to cohabiters under certain eligibility requirements, such as a minimum length of time spent together and/or having had a child together, or if the deceased explicitly named the partner in their will.

  • Consider an adjustment of the orphan’s benefits in case of unmarried parents. Widow(er)’s pension can amount to up to 70% of the calculation basis if their income is below a certain level and they have dependents, while the orphan’s pension for half-orphans only amounts to 20%, and the respective minimum levels are also very different. This means that the income of the remaining family varies after the death of a parent, depending on whether the partners were married or not. This situation should be addressed in the context of a comprehensive social security reform.

While Spanish maternity and in particular paternity leave entitles are comparatively generous, the absence of a paid parental leave can force parents to return to work while they have not yet secured formal childcare for their baby. The provision of a paid parental leave, as well as leave for taking care of sick children whose illness does not meet the current severity threshold, could facilitate life for an important share of families.

  • Explore the gender equality implications of a paid parental leave. Aside from the fiscal costs, the introduction of paid parental leave can have further consequences for the division of paid and unpaid work between men and women and on maternal employment rates. Leave design matters: the timing of leaves, scope for employer’s flexibility and the benefits levels are very relevant variables that determine leave uses and effects. For example, a limited expansion of paid parental leave may improve maternal employment rates since women will no longer need to expand maternity leave with unemployment benefits, as is the case in particular for some low-skilled workers. But a too expansive lengthening of the leave may put women in general at a disadvantage on the labour market if most of the leave is taken by mothers rather than fathers. The uptake of the recently increased paternity leave and the potential gender equality effects of the length of paid parental leave should be assessed before introducing paid parental leave. The assessment should also consider to which extent requests for leave by mothers and fathers are explicitly or implicitly blocked by employers.

  • Introduce paid parental leave. Although Spain offers parents the possibility to take leave during the first three years after birth or adoption or to reduce their working hours while their children are younger than 12, the fact that such leave is not paid implies that few people use their parental leave entitlements. Introducing a new parental leave, offering a benefit associated with taking the current unpaid leave, or creating a unique leave scheme upon childbirth that combines paternity, maternity and parental leave could address this issue. Rather than making entitlements to paid parental leave shareable as in many OECD countries, international experience suggests that it might be better to follow the current Spanish model of maternity and paternity leave to provide fathers (and mothers) with their own individual paid parental leave entitlements on a “use it or lose it” basis. For instance, Iceland and Sweden use “mummy and daddy quotas”, whereas Germany offers a “bonus period” where a couple may qualify for extra weeks/months of paid leave if both parents use a certain amount of shareable leave. Keeping the paid parental leave relatively short when it is initially introduced could furthermore provide the time for an evaluation of whether a disproportionate take-up by mothers puts women at a disadvantage in the workplace.

  • Make the parental leave flexible. In many OECD countries, paid parental leave can be used to prolong the period that the child is cared for at home, but it can also be used when a specific need arises, such as a sick child or a temporary closure of the childcare facility. For parents who may be unwilling or unable to stop work completely, flexible or part-time leave arrangements may provide a solution. Spanish law already offers many options for example to reduce working hours, but a flexible parental leave could for example provide some compensation for the associated reduction in labour income if a parent has to reduce their working hours to take care of a school-age child with a chronic but not life-threatening illness. Such arrangements can help minimise the financial impact of taking leave, while allowing employees to remain connected to their jobs and to care for children. They can also help partners to “shift-share” part-time leave and work commitments. Employers may benefit too: In many cases, they may not have to go to the expense of finding and hiring a replacement worker if the employee is on leave only part-time. However, as with the expansion of the paid parental leave in general, the gender implications of flexibility should be taken into account. Requiring at least part of the paternity and potentially also potential parental leave to be taken in one sufficiently long block and as a sole carer can be beneficial for strengthening the carer responsibility of fathers over the long term. Employers should moreover be encouraged to allow mothers and fathers alike to take the type of leave that works best for their families, and to not pressure their employees to work during the time they are supposed to be on (part-time or full-time) leave.

  • Consider leave top-ups for single parents. Maternity and paternity leave are currently non-transferable. While the non-transferability should in most cases be maintained in order to allow both parents to spend time caring exclusively for their child and establishing more equal care patterns going forward, an exception could be considered when parents are separated and do not have joint physical custody of the child. For example Germany allows the two ‘top-up’ months that extend the combined leave from 12 to 14 months if the second parent takes at least two months of leave be taken by a single parent. Other situations, such as health problems of one parents, could also give rise to a limited amount of transferability of leave entitlements from one parent to the other.

Parents find it easier to return to and stay in the labour market if they have access to high-quality and affordable early childhood care and education (ECEC); and children can benefit from such offers in a durable way. In Spain, ECEC is already near-universal for children from age three onwards, but parents of younger children may still struggle in finding affordable options for formal care of their children.

  • Evaluate whether recent laws are sufficient to increase the availability of ECEC for under-three-year-olds. These laws are encouraging the Autonomous Communities to increase the offer of daycare spots for under three-year-olds, and may transform informal into formal carers for pre-school and school children. The experience of Poland illustrates the importance of undertaking regular evaluation of the legal framework and its implementation, and adjust the legislation in line with evolving circumstances, to stimulate a rapid expansion of ECEC coverage. In assessing the progress in coverage, a specific emphasis should be placed on ensuring that lower-income families or families in which the parents do not securely speak Spanish have equally good or even better access to ECEC services than others do.

  • Monitor the expansion and potentially make an ECEC spot a subjective right. The expansion of public or publicly funded early childhood education and care spots should be carefully monitored; and if necessary, further incentives should be set. As an example, Germany introduced a requirement that municipalities have to provide a childcare place either in centre-based or in home-based care for children from age 1, and in centre-based ECEC for children aged 3 years and older. If a place is not offered to a child, parents can take legal action. A similar approach is used in Sweden, where each child aged 1-5 should be offered a place in a pre-school facility within four months of application to the municipality.

After-school programmes do not only allow parents to know that their children are well taken care of while they work, but can also foster equal opportunities for children who may otherwise not have access to the same enriching cultural and sports activities and help with homework as other children do.

  • Study the care gap for school-age children. Currently in Spain as in many other OECD countries, the provision of out-of-school-hours care depends on the goodwill of local authorities or stakeholder actions, such as parent organisations, leading to unequal provisions across different areas and public and private schools and uncertain quality. Understanding exactly how big the gap is across the territory and for different socio-economic groups is a first pre-requisite to address any existing care gaps.

  • Ensure the quality and affordability of after-school programmes. The offered activities should be a meaningful mix between cultural, educational and sport offers, and should be affordable to all parents. In Denmark and Sweden, OSH services are often co-ordinated with school authorities to provide all-day care for children, with services normally provided on school premises or nearby, and opening hours usually stretching until at least 5pm. In Denmark, services are often offered free to low-income families, while in Sweden there is a maximum fee of around 2% of gross household income for the first child and lower rates for subsequent children, ensuring that OSH services are generally affordable for most families. School meals may be part of the services offered, with fees that reflect family income and the number of children. For instance, the Irish School Meals Programme aims to ensure food security for school-aged children and is financed by local authorities in partnership with NGOs and other voluntary organisations.

Flexible working hours may make it easier to combine work and care responsibilities for young children. However, the legal right to ask for an adaptation of working time to reconcile family and work tasks and the need for larger enterprises to develop gender equity plans alone are not sufficient to create a meaningful change as long as most employees work for small and medium size enterprises and as long as there are no financial incentives and publicly funded programmes to help firms create an environment where these adjustments are routine.

  • Assess the applicability of regional programmes. There are a few regional programmes funding gender action plans and adaptation of working times and modes. Assessment of these experiences could provide ground for a more ambitious policy at the state level, and for creating programmes that are funded by the state and developed by the Autonomous Communities following a common plan. Such a plan could incentivise firms to introduce increased flexibility but also offer relevant support or services to employees that would make it easier for them to combine work and family life. Where applicable, collective bargaining can also take up the topic of flexible working times and modes. Together with the Spanish Social and Economic Council, the social partners could also assess the impact of gender equality plans in larger medium-size and large companies on family friendliness and co-responsibility.

  • Allow family-friendly employers to stand out. The Ministry of Equality’s Women’s Institute awards a badge of excellence, the “Distintivo de Igualdad en la Empresa”, to companies that stand out in the development of gender equality policies in the workplace; and the Fundación Más Familia, with the institutional support of the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030, awards a certificate for family-responsible enterprises, the “Certificado de empresas familiarmente responsible”. Both the award and the certificate could provide specific mentions for employers that achieve a more equitable take up of child-related leaves by their male and female employees, especially if a paid parental leave is introduced.

Family support is not limited to financial benefits but includes special in-kind services that are gaining importance in dealing with family well-being. Since all types of families could potentially benefit from family services at one stage or another, offering universal and co-ordinated programmes can be very helpful. Aside from education and health services, support to families includes information, education, advice and counselling on parent-child relations and interactions.

  • Learn from positive Spanish and international examples of parenting programmes. Parenting programmes are a potential lever to improve family relations and children’s educational outcomes and reduce the likelihood that they will engage in risky behaviour. They may target parents of new-borns and young children to help them transition to their new phase of life. Good international examples that have been shown to promote positive parent-child interactions and secure attachment include the Triple P’s Positive Parenting course (e.g. in Australia) or Circle of Security (e.g. in the United States). Programmes such as Mother Goose and Sing and Grow (Australia) engage parents and children simultaneously through group activities have been found to increase parenting efficacy and improve children’s language abilities. Other programmes may be addressed to parents facing particular challenges in raising their children. The Autonomous Communities have been offering parental education programmes for a while. However, insufficient funding and personnel and an unclear focus on which goals are being pursued, places them in need of co-ordination to ensure minimum availability, standards of quality and efficiency. The co-ordination could also be used to share good practices and lessons learned.

  • Improve outreach to families. Universal services can be “cascaded” to better identity and target families who are most in need of multiple services. However, the effectiveness of universal and targeted services depends first on parents being aware of and actually using the services. Co-location of family services at sites like schools, clinics or formal childcare centres can contribute to this outreach and also lead to economies of scale. Outreach around birth can be quite effective, and has the added advantage the earliest years are the ones with the highest ‘return on investment’. For example, in Helsinki (Finland), first-time fathers and mothers are offered family coaching and physiotherapy groups at maternity clinics prior to childbirth, and organised family activities at playgrounds upon childbirth; and relevant experiences may also exist in different Spanish regions. Along with Finland, other countries such as Australia, France and New Zealand also aim to co-ordinate policies using the “first 1 000 days” approach. Under this approach, families can receive continuous preventative and tailored assistance throughout pregnancy and in the first years. Common programme features include support for good physical and mental health of children and their parents, enhancing parents’ awareness of good nutrition practices, improving the quality of parent-child interactions and reducing family stress. These are combined with whole-of-government approach to institute measures to fight childhood poverty, boost the quality of childcare and make it easier to reconcile work and family life.

The Spanish Autonomous Communities already offer family mediation, which involve a professional who helps a separating family resolve disputes and draft a settlement agreement. Yet their use even in contentious divorce proceedings is still relatively limited, owing to a mix of factors including a lack of enthusiasm of some legal professionals or divorcing couples and a lack of knowledge about the existence of the mechanism.

  • Make the use of family mediation more widespread. Partners can often access mediation either on their own accord or by a court order. Increasing information about the uses and availability of mediation – and making sure that families can actually access the service within a timely manner – could increase the recourse to mediation that separating couples seek out themselves. Offering the service at no or subsidised cost, as many countries including Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, England, Wales and Scotland do, would also be helpful. In order to increase the recourse to mediation via the route of the judicial system, a requirement that families attend an introductory mediation session as a condition for starting a contentious divorce proceeding could be considered. This requirement, which extends beyond family judicial proceedings, has significantly increased the use of mediation in Italy. However, in line with relevant Council of Europe recommendations and for example the practice in France, mediation should not be undertaken and certainly not required in cases where intra-family violence has occurred.

Since different ministries and government levels are responsible for policies that affect families, family policy can be more impactful if different relevant actors, including the state, regional and local governments, service providers and advocacy organisations align their policy instruments. And through monitoring and evaluation of reform implementation and impact, future policies can be improved and family policy may become more objective and evidence-based. Currently in Spain, there are various co-ordination and co-operation bodies, but they do not always function effectively; and while laws and policy programmes sometimes enumerate monitoring and evaluation requirements, these are not always carried out as planned nor entirely independent.

Most family policy planning instruments already establish advisory boards and councils to make co-operation across policy areas and government levels easier. The state government reference authority for family policies, the General Directorate for Family Diversity and Social Services of the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030, works with an interterritorial commission, which includes family support representatives from the Autonomous Community administrations, and with an interministerial commission, which includes representatives from relevant ministries. The Family State Council and Observatory used to provide a stable framework for the participation and collaboration of family associations with the general state administration, but their mandate expired in 2011.

  • Revive the Family State Council and Observatory. Reactivating the Family State Council and Observatory could leverage non-governmental actors’ expertise for family policy making and evaluation. It could be worth first analysing the reasons for their discontinuity after 2011. Further lessons could be drawn from other State Councils, such as potentially the Economic and Social Council and the State School Council, and the Family Councils and Observatories of the Autonomous Communities. Guaranteeing automatic renewal and reviewing the composition of the Council and Observatory could also be considered. NGOs can provide the perspective of public information and public audience. As is already the practice in some regional councils and observatories, council members who are academics can support the development of an annual public report including policy performance and social impact indicators. Representatives from government statistical bodies can also strengthen the link between the policy making and evaluation processes. Locating the observatory at a university institute, as is the case of the Portuguese Observatory on Families and Family Policies, could strengthen its methodological capabilities and its perception as an institution dedicated to non-partisan, evidence-based analysis. However, a prerequisite would have to be that the institute in question is perceived as politically neutral.

  • Clearly define the responsibilities of existing co-operation bodies. Having the three working levels of the interministerial commission, interterritorial commission and state council, as well as the observatory would make sense provided their respective functions are clearly defined. The work of the commissions could be linked to relevant parts of the development and follow up of family policy plans. For instance, consultative reports before approving new measures or regulations, and annual monitoring reports could be made mandatory. An example of addressing a complex co-ordination challenge was the 2013 launch of the Mexican National Crusade against Hunger, which required co-ordination among 19 national-level agencies, 31 states and 400 municipalities. The central government equipped an inter-ministerial commission with the authority to select programmes and modify their budgets; while commissions at the state and local level were supposed to share relevant information and a technical secretariat and evaluation agency accompanied the project. Another example of defined responsibilities is the Swiss federal law on the promotion of childhood and youth, which mandates collaboration and information exchange between the Confederation and the cantons.

  • Give the Councils room to incorporate transversal topics. Specific sessions or working groups involving representatives of ministries or agencies that are not usual members of the interministerial commission could be used to address policy areas that are not part of the ‘core’ of family policy. Policy questions that could be explored include the relationship between rural development and family well-being and family adaptations to the ecological transition.

In Spain, as elsewhere, policy design may not fully reflect the existing evidence base nor incorporate a framework against which to judge the benefits and costs of planned policies. Whenever possible, measures should be accompanied by quantifiable and regularly reviewed objectives. Spain’s evaluation culture and institutions are relatively less developed than is the case in some other OECD countries, like Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. At the central government level in Spain, evaluations are carried out by individual ministries as well as by the Institute for the Evaluation of Public Policies, a sub-directorate within the Ministry for Territorial Policy and Public Function. Prior experience of family policy or other plans demonstrate some of the possibilities and difficulties in monitoring and evaluation. For example, the final evaluation reports of the 2015-2017 Comprehensive Family Support Plan were never approved, and progress towards reaching the broadly formulated objectives was difficult to measure.

  • Anticipate obstacles that can appear in the creation of a monitoring and evaluation system. There are multiple challenges in the creation of a monitoring and evaluation system, including to create adequate communication channels between researchers and decision makers and ensuring continuity for the evaluation system, beyond political changes and shifts. The monitoring and evaluation experience in other policy fields can provide inspiration. For example, evaluations of employment policies in the framework of the European Employment Strategy included annual monitoring of selected social impact indicators and the possibility for comparative evaluations. There is no one model for establishing a lead evaluation organisation. For example, Colombia created a National Monitoring and Evaluation system within the Ministry of Planning, while Mexico has a decentralised public body called the National Council for the Evaluation for Social Development Policy (CONEVAL). Whether or not the evaluation body is an independent agency or part of a Ministry, as in Spain, it requires both the technical capacity as well as a certain level of autonomy in order to be able to carry out or supervise objective evaluations.

  • Promote regular monitoring involving different actors. Quantified indicators can allow regular monitoring, and regular evaluations rather than one final one can provide insights that can shape programmes even while they are being implemented. A positive example is the establishment of a regular evaluation system of a Childcare Services Act in Poland. The evaluations triggered several adjustments of the legislation, including adaptations of ECEC facility requirements, and is considered to have been a main factor in the rapid increase in ECEC coverage. It could be worth considering whether ex-ante evaluation from an independent evaluation institution, for example connected to the parliament, could be added to the corresponding ministry’s assessment.

  • Strengthen data infrastructure and create more relevant indicators. Social security register data could be improved to make it possible to extract relevant indicators and facilitate policy evaluation. Some current gaps include information on how birth and childcare leave benefits are used in terms of gender, duration and flexibility and the use and beneficiaries of the advance child support payments fund. Making it possible to link more survey and administrative data to be able to assess how different benefits and services relate to employment, education and well-being outcomes over time. Moreover, in order to be able to assess the availability and impact of services that are provided decentrally, such as out-of-school care, there could be further efforts to harmonise data collection and create comparable indicators. Finally, subjective well-being indicators could also be incorporated in the monitoring of family policies and services. The combination of different indicators can provide complementary insights: Evaluations of the Scottish Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-2022 focus on the impact of a few key measures, but also include a qualitative assessment of the inter-play of different components of the plan. A commission of technical staff from different ministries and the National Statistical Office and academic researchers could elaborate a proposal on which indicators are needed and how information can be harmonised. A long-standing example of such a body is the US Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics that was founded in 1997 and continues to bring together representatives from different federal agencies in order to decide priorities for data collection, discuss methodological issues and disseminate information about the status of children to policy makers and the general public.

  • Build demand for evidence by policy makers and practitioners. Evidence from a variety of OECD and non-OECD countries suggest that senior policy makers and civil servants often do not rely on evidence in policy making, including research that was commissioned by the ministry itself. Making sure that policy makers know where to find information and how to interpret it are important components of increasing the demand for evidence and its use in policy and programme design. Knowledge brokers as well as tools to assess one’s knowledge about accessing research can strengthen the availability and demand for information. For example, Australia and Canada offer self-assessment tools that help agencies or individuals, respectively, in gauging their capacity of using research; and the Research and Evaluation unit of the Irish Department of Children and Youth Affairs provides evidence to other government departments. Training programmes can increase policy makers’ level of comfort with interpreting evidence. Examples include the Evidence Masterclass of the UK’s Alliance for Useful Evidence and the Finnish Innovation Fund’s training module on putting lessons learned from experiments into practice.

  • Disseminate evaluation results to the public. Sharing monitoring and evaluation results could enhance public information, strengthen the debate on positive parenting, and create an environment that is favourable to evidence-based family measures and programmes. A first step is to publish evaluation results by default rather than on a case-by-case basis, as close to half of OECD countries (including Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Poland) do. Several countries also have dedicated evaluation portals or databases, such as the Polish ewaluacja and the Norwegian evalueringsportalen websites. Finally, the results of studies or evaluations could be disseminated in a way that is likely to appeal to a broader audience than policy reports do. For example, findings from the longitudinal Growing up in Australia study contributed to a documentary series showing the life of a number of different children at the same years of age.

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