German Childcare: Expert Services for Happy Kids

Germany is today one of the seven Member States of the European Union which guarantee a place in a subsidized education and care establishment for all children from early childhood (6 to 18 months). Its capacity to accommodate young children amounts to 818,427 places in 2019, compared to only 286,017 in 2006. “In 2002, barely more than one child under 3 in ten was accommodated outside of the family, mainly in collective structures (which accommodated 2.7% of children in the West, compared to 37% in the East)”, details an analysis note from France Stratégie published in May 2017. This impressive increase is therefore recent, but above all it fills a gap which dates back to the aftermath of the Second World War.

Kinder, Küche, Kirche*: women encouraged not to work and to keep their children

During the Third Reich, the Nazi regime did not spare kindergartens. “The dominant goal was ‘the breeding of entirely healthy bodies.’ Boys had to harden themselves through warlike games and develop a taste for military rituals, while girls received an education adapted to the “biological data” of their sex, dedicated to motherhood. One of the strong points of education was, moreover, to instill a feeling of “love for the Führer”, even in very young children”, relates Gunilla-Friederike Budde in the article History of the gardens of children in Germany (Persée, 1999).

After the Second World War, everything will be done to ensure that such a drift does not happen again. Furthermore, with the economy in a period of growth, not working when you are a woman is a privilege well considered in the West German model. Those who look after their children, on the other hand, are perceived “either as incompetent to raise their child, or as coming from a disadvantaged social background, therefore obliged to work”, we read from the same source.

Until the 2000s, women were therefore strongly encouraged to give up their professional activity until their child was 3 years old. Flaws in family policy and very limited childcare systems also force German women to work part-time. At the same time, more and more of them, especially the most qualified, are prioritizing their careers and choosing not to have children. As a result, fertility is steadily declining, the aging of the population is accelerating and generational renewal is no longer assured.

A proactive policy from the 2000s

The poor PISA ranking of 2001 adds to the negative consequences on women’s employment rates and fertility levels. Ranking 21st out of 32 countries, the German education system is characterized by poor performance and a high level of social inequality. This poor position forces the country to take more consideration of the child’s early development. Societal and demographic, the issue is also educational. The issue of caring for young children then becomes a political priority.

Since 2004, the country has passed several successive laws with quantified objectives to strengthen reception capacity. Above all, it establishes an enforceable right to a place of reception for any child from the age of one in 2013. As a result, “Germany has more than doubled its capacity to accommodate children under 3 years old through methods of formal welcome over the last few years. This country has also experienced a major increase in the rate of coverage of this age group by collective reception structures, thus surpassing France. In Germany, this rate increased from 12% in 2006 to 28.3% in 2018, while it decreased slightly in France between 2006 (21%) and 2018 (20%),” summarizes the European study.

A majority collective reception for up to six years

Since school is not compulsory for all children until the age of 6, different types of care called Kitas (for Kindertagesstätte) exist before this age: crèches and childminders for children under three; kindergartens and daycares for children aged 3 to 6 years. “More than 90% of children between 3 and 6 years old are looked after outside the family. This figure is lower among children under 3 years old since it is only 33%” notes a brochure on the education system, published by Germany Diplomatie in 2018 which also specifies that “for many parents, the The question of custody of their child arises when the child reaches the age of one year.

Decisive public spending, but a variable cost

The financing of childcare for young children is shared between the Land – the State’s contribution being directly integrated into this contribution – the municipalities and the parents. The European study points out that overall “public expenditure linked to early childhood care and preschool education for those under 6 years old almost doubled between 2005 and 2015. It represented 0.60% of GDP in 2015 , compared to 0.37% in 2005. This increase in public spending has thus contributed to largely increasing the capacity to accommodate children under three years old (i.e. +131% places between 2006 and 2014).”

Parental financial participation varies at local level (between 1 and 20% depending on the Länder). It all depends on the policy pursued by the municipality. Most of the time, the monthly contribution is set by the city and varies depending on the parents’ income. “In several Länder, new rules have applied since August 1, 2018 to Kita prices. Thus, in Berlin, reception is free and only meals are subject to payment. In Hesse and Lower Saxony, reception is now free for children over 3 years old,” details the Germany Diplomacy brochure.

The European study puts the spotlight on the city of Hamburg which “stands out with low fees for families, attractive financing methods for structures and a strong increase in the coverage rate for under 3s since 2006 “. Parental financial contribution is only 6%, with the city covering the remaining 94%. Furthermore, the public subsidy system “includes partial free reception of five hours per day for families (meals included). Beyond these five hours per day, the cost for parents can vary between €16 and €204 per month and per child for 10 hours of care per day depending on household income. »

Free activities supervised by educators

To support the boom in the development of childcare provision for children under 3 years old, the number of early childhood professionals increased by 45% in Germany between 2008 and 2015. In the Kitas, they are mainly educators ( nearly 70% of early childhood professionals). Educators have a higher secondary level of qualification (three years of non-university professional training). Other professionals are mainly less qualified assistants.

The maximum required number of children per professional for those under 3 years old varies between four and six children. From the age of 2, this ratio is one professional for every eight children. In Bremen and Hamburg, the ratio is stricter (one professional for every four children under three). As for the minimum surface area required per child, it is three to four square meters only in the Länder which impose it (in France the surface area required per child is 5.5 to 7 square meters).

“In the German conception of education, the notion of overall development of the child is fundamental,” insists the brochure from Germany diplomacy. In Kitas, this approach consists of offering a space of creativity in which the child discovers his environment within the framework of free or structured play. Children freely choose their activity. They are supervised by educators who observe the children during play and who encourage reflection. With the exception of meals and some gathering time, no activities are required. On the other hand, activities initiated by adults and those initiated by children combine and balance each other.

The Kitas do not prepare children for school, but introduce them to community life. Young children develop their individual abilities, integrate and participate in collective life. The idea is to strengthen their self-confidence, to instill in them tolerance and respect for others. The groups are therefore made up of children of different ages and learning is sometimes done alone, sometimes in groups. The family is associated with children’s learning.

Rules that are too disparate and professionals still insufficient

In less than twenty years, early childhood care has transformed in Germany thanks to an arsenal of incentive and restrictive laws and significant public funding. The law passed in 2018, the “Gute-Kita-Gesetz” law, provides federal support of 5.5 billion euros until 2022. This money is intended to promote the quality of care for young children and to reduce the remaining burden for parents.
The fact remains that the amount of childcare costs essentially depends on the policy pursued by the municipality. Depending on whether you live in Berlin or Hamburg, the reception offer differs, as do the prices. Furthermore, the regulations governing the practice of early childhood professionals are also set at the local level. The same goes for continuing training, more or less sustained. Continuing professional development (CPD) is only compulsory in certain federal states (Mecklenburg – Western Pomerania and Thuringia).

In 2017, 12% of requests for places for children under 3 remained unmet. If we refer to the statements of parents who wish to care for their children under 3 years old, childcare offers need to be further developed. “According to recent estimates, around 307,000 additional places will be required by 2025,” reports the A brochure.

However, still according to projections for 2025, “the need for additional professionals in establishments welcoming young children is estimated at 222,000. Even with the addition of 188,000 trained professionals who will complete their training by 2025, it would still be 34,000 professionals short of requirements,” points out the European study. The training of professionals working with children under 3 years old is becoming a major issue. To respond, Germany has already increased public spending (11.2 billion euros in 2017, or 0.3% of GDP), but the country is mainly focusing on work-study training. In 2019, 5.6% of active professionals were on an internship or work-study program.

*Kinder, Küche, Kirche, which translates into French as “children, kitchen, church”, also known as “the three Ks”, is intended to be a representation of the traditional values devolved to women in Germany under the empire German, taken up by the Third Reich as well as by certain traditionalist movements of the post-war period. The purpose of this speech was to describe the role of women in society and the family. They had, according to this definition, to ensure the education of the children, cook for the family and live according to religious precepts and morals.

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