New York Times

What Happened When This Italian Province Invested in Babies

The area around Bolzano has a thick network of family support provided by the government. That means a steady birthrate in a country facing a demographic plunge.

The New York Times, By Jason Horowitz and Gaia Pianigiani -- Jason Horowitz reported from Bolzano, Italy, and Gaia Pianigiani from Siena. April 1, 2024

In a municipal building in the heart of the alpine city of Bolzano, Stefano Baldo clocked out of work early for his breastfeeding break.

"It's clear I don't breastfeed," Mr. Baldo, a 38-year-old transportation administrator, said in his office decorated with pictures of his wife and six children. But with his wife home with a newborn, one of the parents was entitled by law to take the time, and he needed to pick up the kids. "It's very convenient."

Full houses have increasingly become history in Italy, which has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe and where Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, as well as Pope Francis, has warned that Italians are in danger of disappearing. But the Alto Adige-South Tyrol area and its capital, Bolzano, more than any other part of the country, bucked the trend and emerged as a parallel procreation universe for Italy, with its birthrate holding steady over decades.

The reason, experts say, is that the provincial government has over time developed a thick network of family-friendly benefits, going far beyond the one-off bonuses for babies that the national government offers.

Parents enjoy discounted nursery schools, baby products, groceries, health care, energy bills, transportation, after-school activities and summer camps. The province supplements national allocations for children with hundreds of euros more per child and vaunts child-care programs, including one that certifies educators to turn their apartments into small nurseries.

All of that, experts say, helps free up women to work, which is vital for the economy. As in France and some Scandinavian countries, it also shows that a policy of offering affordable day-care services has the power to steer Italy from the impending demographic cliff as the birthrate falls.

Baldo family in Park in front of their apartment building

The Baldo family in the park in front of their apartment. Renata Canali, the children's grandmother, is at left, with Gioele. Mr. Baldo is next to her, and Ruben is next to him. Tiziana Balzamá, the children's mother, is holding Giona. The other three Baldo children — Raffaele, Beniamino and Elia — are playing around them.Credit...Davide Monteleone for The New York Times

"If we don't invest money in families, there is no future for any of us," said Waltraud Deeg, a former province council member and an architect of some of its family policies. "The family is a long-term project, so policies need to be long term, too."

That approach not only distinguishes the area around Bolzano, it also stands out in Italy in other important ways that may make its example hard to replicate.

The area also has the highest income per resident in Italy, according to ISTAT, the country's statistics agency.

Outside his office, Mr. Baldo walked past a blue wreath marking the arrival of a co-worker's first grandchild and exited the building through a lobby filled with fliers advertising "Welcome Baby" backpacks loaded with tips for new parents and picture books.

He hopped on his scooter and arrived at the nursery school to pick up his 5- and 4-year-old sons. "Oh, you want both of them?" the preschool teacher joked. "But let me hide one under my apron."

The boys strapped on their Bolzano-issued "Welcome Baby" backpacks and walked across the street with their father to pick up their little brother at another nursery for younger children. The four then crossed the street to their rent-stabilized apartment, where Mr. Baldo's wife, Tiziana Balzamá, 39, greeted them with an infant in her arms.

Mr daldo bathing sone Rueben

Mr. Baldo bathing Ruben, 2, before bedtime. Credit...Davide Monteleone for The New York Times

Experts say the province's sustained and reliable financial commitment to families matter more than the short-term baby bonuses that Italy's unstable national governments have favored for decades.

"The difference is that it has a constant investment, over the years, unlike most national policies that are one-offs," said Agnese Vitali, a demographer at the University of Trento. "Nobody plans to have children based on one-off policies."

The Baldo family said provincial support meant everything to them. As a cake rose in the oven, Ruben, 2, played a children's song, while his brothers Beniamino, 5, and Gioele, 4, showed off the plastic vegetables in their play kitchen. Their parents sat next to a toy cash register and explained that, like every parent in the province, they received 200 euros a month for each of their six children until they turned 3.

That was on top of the monthly check for 1,900 euros, or about $2,000, they received from the national government for their children.

Their Family + card, available to all families with three or more children, entitled them to 20 percent off many supplies around the city and was linked to the local Despar supermarket for additional discounts. Ms. Balzamá said she also made use of savings on public transportation.

When the family-friendly subsidies started in the 1980s, the province also imported the idea of the Tagesmutter, or childminder, day-care system from East Germany. Italians call it Casa Bimbo. Under the system, the province certifies, registers and supports local teachers who turn their homes into nurseries. It is especially popular in rural areas.

The Baldo Family

The Baldo family at home. From left, Raffaele, Ms. Canali on the carpet with Giona and Gioele, and Ms. Balzamá. Some experts say the province's attitude toward family benefits is rooted in the desire of a minority culture in a historically disputed area.Credit...Davide Monteleone for The New York Times

"They bet on a network of widespread micronurseries," said Mariangela Franch, an economics professor at the University of Trento.

Ms. Balzamá, who worked in classrooms around the province before her first son was born, said she had looked into a yearlong course to become a Tagesmutter but concluded that for now it made more financial sense to stay home.

"It was my choice to say that I will wait to go back to work," she said.

For mothers who do wish to return to work — like her sister, a nurse, with four children of her own — Ms. Balzamá said the province also offered inexpensive public nursery schools.

Some experts say the province's attitude toward family benefits is rooted in the desire of a minority culture in a historically disputed area to keep alive a strong identity by encouraging people to have more children. That cultural factor becomes clearer when looking across the border to Trentino, the other — and more culturally Italian — part of the larger region.

Trentino has also invested heavily in child care — a strategy that predates and in some cases outstrips its neighbor. Its birthrate has nevertheless plunged to 1.36 children per woman, much lower than Alto Adige-South Tyrol's and much closer to the dismal national average.

"The local culture also plays an important role," said Alessandro Rosina, a prominent Italian demographer. "And that is hard to export."

Mr. Baldo, who does not speak German, says he is as Italian as anyone. He said his Catholic faith and affection for the chaos of big families — his wife is one of eight children — motivated the couple to have children, a decision enabled by provincial policies.

Mr Baldo picking up his children from school

A man in a puffer jacket and jeans holds a phone to his ear and pushes a stroller with his other hand. Two young boys run around him.

Mr. Baldo picking up Gioele and Beniamino from school. He said his Catholic faith and affection for the chaos of big families motivated him and his wife to have children.Credit...Davide Monteleone for The New York Times

At 4 p.m., he rushed out to pick up his other two sons from school in his white van. He said he had ordered a new one, with nine seats, and that anything bigger would require a special license.

He waved to the volunteer retirees in fluorescent green vests who made up what the province called "grandparent traffic cops." In addition to acting as crossing guards, he explained, they also marched children to school in the morning in a program called "the walking bus."

Mr. Baldo's older boys — Raffaele, 10, and Elia, 8 — piled into the van, and they all rode home. Their grandmother Renata Canali, 71, had stopped by and demanded that her daughter-in-law "give me my grandson."

"Ciao, ciao, ciao," she said to the infant, Giona, 6 months old. "He's as beautiful as the sun." Some of the boys drew or danced, while the others got ready for dinner, showers or soccer practice.

"Many of our friends have one or two children because they want to live their lives. But here if they wanted, they have help," Ms. Balzamà said. "We have a friend in Rome who has four kids. They pay a ton for help."

Brainwashing Children - Divorce - Family Law

W5 TV Show on Parental Alienation

TV Show about Parental Alienation

W5 investigates: Children on the frontlines of divorce

November 7, 2009

The world of divorce is scary for any child. But when a divorce becomes especially toxic, children can become the target of an unrelenting crusade by one parent to destroy the child's relationship with the other. Experts call it parental alienation.

A Mother's Heartbreaking Story of Parental Alienation

A Kidnapped Mind

A Kidnapped Mind

What does Parental Alienation Syndrome mean? In my case, it meant losing a child. When Dash was 4 1/2 years old his father and I broke up. I dealt with the death of our marriage and moved on but Peter stayed angry, eventually turning it toward his own house, teaching our son, day by day, bit by bit, to reject me. Parental Alienation Syndrome typically means one parent's pathological hatred, the other's passivity and a child used as a weapon of war. When Dash's wonderful raw materials were taken and shaken and melted down, he was recast as a foot soldier in a war against me.

Parental Alienation

Divorced Parents Move, and Custody Gets Trickier

The New York Times, New York city, U.S.A. August 8, 2004

Not too long ago, Jacqueline Scott Sheid was a pretty typical Upper East Side mother. Divorced and with a young daughter, she had quickly remarried, borne a son, and interrupted her career to stay home with the children while her husband, Xavier Sheid, worked on Wall Street.

Early last year, Mr. Sheid lost his job and saw his only career opportunity in California. But Ms. Sheid's ex-husband, who shares joint legal custody of their daughter, refused to allow the girl to move away. So Ms. Sheid has spent much of the last year using JetBlue to shuttle between her son and husband on the West Coast and her daughter (and ex) on the East.

The New York court system, which she hoped would help her family to resolve the problem, has cost her tens of thousands of dollars in fees for court-appointed experts, she said, and has helped to prolong the process by objecting to her choice of lawyers.

TV Show Parental Alienation - The View - Alec Baldwin

The View - Parental Alienation - Alec Baldwin and Jill Egizii - Both Genders Can be Victims

Alec Baldwin talks about his experience with parental alienation. Alec ( 3rd from right) was accompanied by Jill Egizii ( 2nd from right) , president of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organisation (PAAO) and Mike McCormick, president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC).

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Landmark Ruling Grants Father Custody of Children

PA News (U.K.), July 3, 2004

A key court decision to grant a father custody of his daughters after the mother flouted contact orders for four years was today welcomed by campaigners.

Fathers 4 Justice said that the High Court ruling was a vital victory and called for more judges to take a similar stance when faced with resistant parents.

The comments come after Mrs Justice Bracewell transferred the residence of two young girls to their father because the mother persistently refused him contact, despite court orders.  Read More ..

National Post

Custody judges rule on vengeance

Courts criticized for recognizing 'parental alienation'

National Post
March 27, 2009

Toronto -- The scope of the courts' reach into family affairs has long been contentious, but a recent trend in Canada's legal system has brought a new controversy that has some onlookers praising judges and others condemning them for accepting what they call "voodoo science."

More than ever before, Canada's judges are recognizing that some children of divorced and warring parents are not simply living an unfortunate predicament, but rather are victims of child abuse and suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome.   Read More ..


Psychiatric disorder may have led boy to fatally shoot father

Rick James Lohstroh, a doctor at UTMB, was fatally shot this summer, apparently by his 10-year-old son.

ABC13 Eyewitness News, Houston, Texas, U.S.A.
Dec. 29, 2004

The 10-year-old Katy boy accused of murdering his father this summer is now the face of an unofficial psychiatric disorder that may have lead to his father's death.

Some psychiatrists call it Parental Alienation Syndrome and they say that's why the son killed Doctor Rick Lohstroh last summer. The syndrome is basically caused by a bitter parent who poisons a child against the other parent, usually in cases of divorce.

Canadian Bar Association


Parental Alienation Syndrome: A 'Hidden' Facet of Custody Disputes

Read More ..

Parental Alienation
Scholarly Paper

Parental Alienation - Myths, Realities & Uncertainties:
A Canadian Study,

May 12, 2009

By Nicholas Bala, Suzanne Hunt & Carrie McCarney
Faculty of Law
Queens University
Kingston, ON Canada

Alienation cases have been receiving a great deal of public and professional attention in the past few months in Canada. As with so many issues in family law, there are two competing, gendered narratives offered to explain these cases.  Men's rights activists claim that mothers alienate children from their fathers as a way of seeking revenge for separation, and argue that judges are gender-biased against fathers in these cases. Feminists tend to dismiss alienation as a fabrication of abusive fathers who are trying to force contact with children who are frightened of them and to control the lives of their abused former partners. While there is some validity to both of these narratives, each also has significant mythical elements. The reality of these cases is often highly complex, with both fathers and mothers bearing significant responsibility for the situation.

Two of the many findings are:

Mothers are twice as likely as fathers to alienate children from the other parent, but this reflects the fact that mothers are more likely to have custody or primary care of their children; in only 2 out of 89 cases was a parent with only access able to alienate a child from the other parent.

Fathers made more than three times as many unsubstantiated claims of parental alienation as mothers, but this too reflects the fact that claims of alienation (substantiated and unsubstantiated) are usually made by access parents, who are usually fathers.

The Globe and Mail

Parental alienation cases draining court resources

Study says such cases should be moved out of court system, handled by individual judges

The Globe and Mail
May 13, 2009

An escalation in parental alienation allegations is draining valuable courtroom resources, a major study of 145 alienation cases between 1989-2008 concludes.

"Access problems and alienation cases - especially those which are more severe - take up a disproportionate amount of judicial time and energy," said the study, conducted by Queen's University law professor Nicholas Bala, a respected family law expert.

"One can ask whether the courts should even be trying to deal with these very challenging cases." Read More ..

Journal of Psychosocial Nursing 1994

Parental Alienation Syndrome

A Developmental Analysis of a Vulnerable Population

The American family is changing, and divorce is no small part of the pattern. In the United States, there are nearly a million and a half divorces and annulments annually. It is estimated that 40% to 50% of adults will eventually divorce . Including the indirect effects on family and friends, the impact of divorce has ripple effects not only for those directly involved, but also for society and clinical nursing.

Many children involved in divorce and custody litigation undergo thought reform or mild brainwashing by their parents. This disturbing fact is a product of the nature of divorce and the disintegration of the spousal relationship in our culture. Inevitably, children receive subtly transmitted messages that both parents have serious criticisms of each other. Read More .. ..