Birth rates are declining rapidly in the Western world. In order to revitalise Finland’s birth rates, people have been encouraged to have more children as a community effort, and further ideas presented for this purpose include raising the employment rate and reducing the use of smartphones. Earlier this autumn, the University of Jyväskylä’s VoiKu (Vanhemmuuden voimavara- ja kuormitustekijät) research project on parental resources and burden factors provided alarming preliminary results on the reasons for lower birth rates: exhausted parents do not want additional children.

The research data collected last spring presented a stark picture of Finnish parents’ coping. According to the results, more than 60% suffered from a lack of sleep, of which the links to exhaustion have been demonstrated in several earlier studies as well. The preliminary results provided Postdoctoral Researcher Matilda Sorkkila and Professor Kaisa Aunola with validation for the next objective of the research: concrete tools must be developed to support parents’ coping.

Parental burnout screening to be adopted at child welfare clinics

Various researchers have been developing a reliable parental burnout instrument for child welfare clinics. Because the threshold for talking about coping is high even in our society, an instrument comprising five questions would help nurses recognise parents’ exhaustion and its risk factors. In this way parents could be proactively supported and the harms caused by exhaustion minimised. The instrument is already being piloted at Kangasala child welfare clinic, and a clinic in the centre of Jyväskylä will join in early 2019.

“The experiences of clinic staff provide information on the functionality of the instrument as well as suggestions for the correct timing and application of the screening, among other benefits. After the pilot phase, the instrument will be developed based on the suggestions for improvement in order to make it as user-friendly and practical as possible,” Sorkkila says.

It is clear that parents’ exhaustion affects the wellbeing of the entire family. According to Sorkkila, screening at child welfare clinics would make it easier to improve and allocate services and support to parents more efficiently than is currently done. Parents’ wellbeing is particularly important because we know that parental burnout is connected to, for example, child abandonment and violence.

Could the parental burnout screening thus be part of our National Strategy for Children?

Sorkkila agrees: “It would be great if the instrument could be applied throughout Finland. The aim is to prevent parental burnout and offer help for the everyday lives of exhausted parents. The changes could be remarkable.”

New research findings available in late 2018

The study is part of the International Investigation of Parental Burnout (IIPB) consortium project, which includes 42 countries globally. International comparative results will be available in spring 2019. They include data from different cultures, which will also enable us to analyse the significance of culture for parental exhaustion and the factors that have an impact on it. While awaiting the international findings, comprehensive results from Finland will be published, tackling the components of exhaustion and the extent of exhaustion among Finnish parents.

Sorkkila leads the VoiKu (Vanhemmuuden voimavara- ja kuormitustekijät) study on parental resources and burden factors with Kaisa Aunola, professor in developmental psychology. The project’s research assistant Anni Arola assists with the implementation of the parental burnout instrument. The latest research findings on the components of Finnish parents’ exhaustion will be published in December and international comparative results in spring 2019.

Further information on the VoiKu research project: http://r.jyu.fi/wO7

The website of the international IIPB consortium: https://bit.ly/2B25Z1b