In May, Ministers adopted a Council Recommendation on High-Quality Early Childhood Education and Care Systems. The aim of the Recommendation is to support Member States in their efforts to improve the accessibility and quality of their early childhood education and care systems, whilst recognising that Member States are primarily responsible in this area. It is aimed to drive implementation of actions under principle 11 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, on the right to affordable early childhood education and care of good quality, and implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4.2 that foresees that all girls and boys should have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education by 2030.
Working towards ensuring that early childhood education and care services are accessible, affordable and inclusive, the Recommendation includes the following actions:
- analysing the supply and demand from families in order to better adapt the offer of early childhood education and care services to their needs, respecting parental choice;
- analysing and addressing the barriers that families might encounter when accessing and using early childhood education and care services, such as costs, poverty-related barriers, geographical location, inflexible opening hours, barriers related to inadequate provisions for children with special needs, cultural and linguistic barriers, discrimination as well as a lack of information;
- establishing contact and cooperation with families and especially those in a vulnerable or disadvantaged situation, in order to inform them about the possibilities and benefits of early childhood education and care participation and, where relevant, about available support, and build trust in the services and encourage participation from an early age;
- ensuring that all families who want to make use of early childhood education and care services have access to affordable high-quality early childhood education and care, ideally by working at the appropriate governance level towards a right to an early childhood education and care place of high quality;
- providing inclusive early childhood education and care services for all children, including children with diverse backgrounds and special educational needs, including disabilities, avoiding segregation and incentivising their participation, regardless of the labour market status of their parents or carers.
It also makes recommendations on enhancing the development of early years’ curricula to support child health and well-being; on supporting the professionalisation of early childhood education and care staff, including leaders; promoting transparent and coherent monitoring and evaluation of early childhood education and care services at the appropriate levels; aim at ensuring adequate funding and a legal framework for the provision of early childhood education and care services.
The Council Recommendation is an essential first step in implementing the suggested ECEC2030 roadmap of COFACE Families Europe as part of our proposal for A new EU deal for childcare which covers the following:
- The need for a systemic two-generation approach to childcare both as an investment in the health and education of children and as a support to parents in reconciling work and family life;
- Key EU frameworks which support investment in childcare, with an important role for revised Barcelona targets;
- The multiple benefits of childcare as a measure to support child wellbeing, education and cognitive development, a social inclusion measure that prevents and reduces poverty and social exclusion, and an crucial employment support measure for parents;
- The childcare that families want: it has to be accessible, affordable and of high quality; it has to be diverse, and adapted to the emerging realities in the world of work; it must be available for children below 3 years of age;
- Recommendations for a #ECEC2030 Roadmap to guide the development of a 2030 agenda for childcare based on a mix of policy, targets, funding and monitoring.
Taking this excellent Council Recommendation as a starting point to consolidate legal frameworks, we call on national administrations to make accessible, affordable and quality ECEC a reality, leaving no child behind.