Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) refers to the care provision and education of very young children (below primary school age) outside of their family and home setting. The use of external childcare services is based on the combination of two factors, parental choice and the availability of such services.

We can differentiate between two stages, firstly very young children between 0-3 years old, and in the second group we can categorize as children between 3 and the compulsory schools age in their given country of residence. It is generally perceived that the care services offered to the first age group is mostly a service to working parents, and that the second stage focuses more on the educational needs of the child. However, since the 1990s we see a shift towards a general approach to education and care to children from 0 to the compulsory school age.

There are still great differences between the Member States of the European Union in terms of ECEC, and these are related to historical, cultural and economic factors. There exist diverging views as to what is best for children and what serves the interests of (working) families, therefore we look at the commonalities rather than the differences.

Childcare provision is central to many policies – child welfare, education, social and even employment policies – and includes a wide typology of services including: early childhood care and education, emergency childcare, drop in part-time babysitting services, care services for sick children, multi-purpose childcare facilities, out of hours childcare, out of school care etc. This is not only essential for the healthy development of the child, but also to allow parents, especially women, to sustain or find employment.

There are currently discussions about a European Child Guarantee (modelled on the Youth Guarantee). We would support the call for a European childcare guarantee to ensure all children have access to a variety of available, affordable  and high-quality childcare services in their communities.

COFACE Families Europe’s policy position on ECEC can be found here