On August 1st Germany introduced the legal right to early childhood support in a day care centre or day nursery. Every child between the age of one and three now has the legal right to this type of support and the German Bundesländer plan is to introduce about 810,000 places for under three year olds in day nurseries, so called Kita’s (Kindertagesstätte). This rights-based approach is very much in line with the European Commission's Recommendation on investing in children, adopted in February earlier this year.
Based on an agreement between the federal level, Bundesländer and local authorities the legal right to day care was introduced. The Länder is obliged to finance a sufficient amount of day nursery places in order to guarantee that every child can exert their legal right to day care. The federal government has financially supported this development of places in day care facilities and has introduced a website which provides information for parents, childcare workers and child-minders, as well as funding programmes to support a wide range of stakeholder.
However, according to the German Association of Cities, about 90,000 places in child care facilities are still missing with bigger shortages to continue in bigger cities. The lack of sufficiently qualified child minders might force day care centres to take on more children with the same amount of staff. Germany's Federal Labour Office estimated that an additional 20,000 child minders are required by 2016. In some inner-city areas fewer people than expected take up the day care profession. This leads to a higher demand for places in day care facilities than the anticipated rate of people leaving, resulting in parents or parents to-be struggling to find a place at a day care facility. A recent study of 600 day care facilities in eight Bundesländer also showed that one in every two facilities was of insufficient quality.
If parents decide not to put their child in daycare, parents can receive 100 Euros (150 Euros as of 1st August 2013) per child between the ages of 15 to 36 months, independent of their employment status. The government consisting of Christian Democrats (CDU) and their coalition partners (the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Liberals (FDP)) justify this measure by saying that this would guarantee a freedom of choice for parents who do not want to put their child into daycare. The opposition argues that this money would be better spent on ensuring enough places in daycare facilities are available, and that the subsidy sends the wrong incentive to parents – in particular mothers – encouraging them to stay longer out of the job market. According to them, this negative incentive also disproportionately impacts on mothers with a migrant background, impeding their integration into society.
In 2011, Germany had a total fertility rate of 1.36 per woman aged 15 to 49. This was consistently below 1.4 over the previous decade and is below the EU-27 average of around 1.57. The introduction of the legal right to child day care is also seen as a measure that is aimed at contributing to long-term demographic change in a rapidly aging society. The availability of day care for young children is considered to be one of the key factors influencing young people’s decision-making on whether they want to have children or not. However, given the recent introduction of the reform, clear evidence on whether the legal right to child day care has a positive effect on fertility rates in Germany will have to wait a few years.