COFACE Families Europe welcomes the European Commission’s initiative to put forward a Council Recommendation on Quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). We find it crucial for the achievement of a prosperous, equal and inclusive European Union, that all children have access to a variety of available, affordable and high-quality child services in the communities, including early childhood education and care.
COFACE Families Europe is very much in favour of taking inclusiveness into account in the upcoming Council Recommendation. It is extremely important to provide inclusive ECEC services that will ensure the full participation of children with disabilities, Roma children, children with migrant background, or children from disadvantaged background. Unfortunately, ECEC services are often not inclusive towards children with special needs, or children from disadvantaged backgrounds, thus parents are in an extremely difficult situation when they want to return to the labour market. The Recommendation should include a list of vulnerable groups to provide concrete guidance on the need to include them in high quality ECEC services together with other children. This can be helpful for Member States when they carry out national reforms to reinforce education systems to better promote social inclusion.
It is very important to provide all children with access to a variety of available and affordable childcare services in the communities. The standard ECEC must be complemented by occasional and emergency childcare, care and education services for sick children. Drop-in part-time babysitting services, multi-purpose childcare facilities, out-of hour’s childcare, and employer supported childcare can be an enrichment of the child care possibilities for families if they are accessible, affordable and of good quality. Sometimes parents of children with disabilities or disadvantaged families are not convinced ECEC are able to meet their child’s needs. Therefore, services must invest in building a strong partnership with parents, who are often experts in their child’s needs. Both parents and professionals can learn from one another in order to improve the child’s development. An inclusive ECEC opens the path to inclusive primary and secondary school.
ECEC services have a dual function, on the one hand, they hold an important educational role, and on the other hand as ‘child placement’ to allow parents to work, or to be in education or training. Childcare arrangements, their availability, affordability, accessibility and quality are a pivotal factor for women’s employment and for gender equality and reconciliation of work and family life. This gender dimension should receive adequate acknowledgment in the Council Recommendation. Nevertheless, ECEC services are also a prerequisite to reduce the risk of child poverty. There is a need to make childcare professions attractive as a career path both to men and women with adequate compensation, and to empower childcare professionals with the necessary skills and support to realise inclusion and non-discrimination of children coming from a disadvantaged background, or those who have special needs.
In our experiences, there is a lack of childcare for younger children in most EU Member States, despite ECEC for children aged between 0 and 3 being the most needed for parents (mostly women) trying to re-enter the labour market after the birth of a child. It is also the area where Member States are lagging behind in the achievement of the Barcelona objectives. Therefore, in our assessment of the proposed Work-Life Balance package, COFACE has called on the European Commission and the Member States to revise upward the Education and Training 2020 targets on ECEC by aligning them with the Barcelona objectives: extending the scope to younger children, include the care dimension and set targets higher than the current Barcelona Objectives.