Affordable and high quality childcare in the EU: adapting to local needs
This workshop focused on affordable and high quality early childhood education and care and the need to adapt this to local needs, from various entry points, presented by European Commission services as well as representatives of local initiatives. Indeed, early childcare education and care responds to various needs and concerns different policy fields, i.e. the development of all children, integration and social inclusion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, female labour market participation and work-life balance for parents.
The 2002 Barcelona targets aimed at increasing female labour market participation are still of crucial relevance: while they are on average almost reached in the EU, huge differences between Member States remain. While some countries have made a considerable effort to increase availability of childcare, some are still lagging seriously behind. Therefore, in the European Semester, shortages in Member States are highlighted and co-funding through the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund or the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development is available.
Availability and affordability of high quality childcare is the best tool to break the cycle of disadvantage and hence a powerful tool for social inclusion. The Commission has proposed to raise the funds reserved for social inclusion within the European Social Fund from 20 % to 25 % for the period from 2021-2028.
In order to ensure high quality early childhood education and care systems, a quality framework was developed as a guidance tool for member states focusing on an available, affordable and inclusive access, a professional workforce, curriculum and evaluation and adequate funding. Through the Erasmus+ programme, educational staff can benefit from a study visit in another Member State.
It is crucial to adapt to local needs, such as in rural areas, which make up 44 % of all EU territories. Childcare is promoted through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF), to support social inclusion in these areas, to develop basic services and to support local initiatives, including through innovative and digital solutions.
In Nantes (France), a “Quality Charter” was developed concerning childcare for children up to the age of three, with the involvement of parents and staff from nurseries and other childcare services. It is based on values such as transparency, tolerance, equality, confidentiality as well as continuous improvement.
In Lombardy (Italy), the “nidi gratis” project, co-financed by the European Social Fund, offers deprived families free access to childcare for children up to the age of three in the region of Lombardy, provided both parents are employed or actively searching for a job.
Early childhood education and care responds to different needs and should be adapted to local needs. It benefits parents and families, economy and the labour market as well as the children themselves.
Take away message
Early childhood education and care benefits families including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the economy and the labour market, as well as the children themselves. It is crucial to focus on affordable and high quality childcare. Good practice examples from cities, regions, rural areas need to be addressed to specific local needs. Childcare is part of the European semester and co-funding through the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development is available.
"Early childhood education and care benefits parents and families including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the economy and the labour market as well as the children themselves."