COFACE Families Europe welcomes the recent developments on Early Childhood Education and care, namely the recent European Commission Stocktaking report on the Barcelona Objectives, the proposal for a Council Recommendation on quality ECEC and the upcoming Council conclusions on Early Childhood Development to be expected in June. COFACE called for an ECEC Recommendation and a revision of the Education and Training targets already in its assessment of the Work-Life Balance package and it is very satisfied that these calls have been listened to. These new texts are pieces of a bigger puzzle to equip Europe with a real Pillar of Social Rights and to deliver on the Pillars principle 11 “Childcare and support to children” and principle 9 “Work-Life Balance”. To move forward in principle 9, the European Commission proposed a set of measures in 2017, including a proposal for a Directive, currently under discussion, and a number of non-legislative measures. COFACE welcomes the measures taken by the European Commission on both fronts as we strongly believe that these measures can positively impact families across the EU. We will continue to monitor the progress of those files very closely.
It is important to recall that ECEC has a dual function, on one hand it is a service provided to parents and it is functional for women’s employment, allowing parents (and this very often still means mothers) to stay in employment after the birth of a child. On the other hand, ECEC has a highly important educational and social function as it has been proved to be leading to better learning outcomes for children and guarantee that all children, regardless of their background, can develop their abilities and potential, reducing therefore the effects of poverty and inequalities.
However, childcare must have some key features in order to produce its outcomes. First of all, it must be of high quality and this is why the proposed Council Recommendation is so important. Moreover, childcare must be affordable because, as the recent report on the Barcelona objective reminds us “high costs act as a barrier to the use of childcare and effectively discourage parents, particularly mothers, from working. This was most recently confirmed by the Eurostat data for 2016 which show that the cost factor plays a significant role in the decision not to use formal childcare facilities in many countries […] In the EU, 8 % of parents have moderate difficulty and 19 % have some difficulty in affording the costs for childcare”. Finally childcare must be accessible. This means, on one hand, having a service provision spread across the EU so that parents do not have to travel long distances to use the service, which could lead, once again, to discourage mothers not to work because of the incompatibilities between paid employment and access to services. On the other hand, services must be accessible to all children; they must be inclusive services, to avoid potential segregation, for example, of children with disabilities. On this point, it is important to be very clear: inclusive childcare does not mean creating different and separated services accommodating children with different needs or background, it means that all services must be created with the capacity to accommodate all children.
Finally, it is important to remember that childcare should also be diverse: in the communities families need different types of services and “standard ECEC” should be complemented with other forms of childcare to cater for those parents working atypical hours, shifts, or emergency childcare. For more info about COFACE position on ECEC, click here
On EU childcare targets, the recent EU Commission report on the Barcelona Objectives points out that while the ET2020 target has been achieved (95% of children from 4 y.o. to school age enrolled in formal childcare), the Barcelona objective, aiming at 90% of children from 3 to school age has not been achieved. This means that there is a gap in enrolment from 3 to 4 years old. Moreover, a real problem exists for childcare provision for children below 3 years, even if the 33% target has been reached as an average in the EU. In this regard it is important to point out that this target has been achieved only as an average and because of the over-achievement of a small number of countries. In reality, 16 Member States still have enrolment rates which are much lower than the 33% target.
COFACE therefore calls for upward revision of the Barcelona targets, especially for the 0 to 4 age group. Moreover, COFACE welcomes the proposal for a Council Recommendation on quality ECEC and calls on the Council to approve it without watering down the text and particularly making sure to:
- Keep the reference to inclusive services.
- Give the mandate to the European Commission to revise upwards the so-called Barcelona Objective and the Education and Training targets. The new target would be the core of a separate initiative that could be published in 2019.
- Ensure that at least 30% of the future ESF+ is earmarked for projects related to social inclusion.
For more information, contact Paola Panzeri, Policy and Advocacy manager at email@example.com