"NO!" says Kindiedays, but read what the reality is from a new report by UNICEF. Where Do Rich Countries Stand on Childcare? ranks the accessibility, affordability and quality of childcare for children between birth and school age. This article is based on the UNICEF's publication by Anna Gromada and Dominic Richardson.
Affordable, quality childcare is inaccessible even in many of the world’s wealthiest countries, UNICEF said in a new report released on 18th June 2021. Finland, Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand and Denmark have the highest quality of childcare and best practices from these countries can be applied and adapted everywhere.
“To give children the best start in life, we need to help parents build the nurturing and loving environment that is so critical to children’s learning, emotional well-being and social development,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Government investment in family-friendly policies, including childcare, ensures parents have the necessary time, resources and services they need to support their children at every stage of their development.”
Childcare should provide affection, protection, stimulation and nutrition and enable children to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills. These goals can be achieved through high-quality childcare both within and outside the family.
Rather than viewing one form of care as inherently better for children, the report looks at the policy mix and the scope of choice offered to parents who decide to stay with their children, as well as those who decide to use organized care.
Childcare should provide affection, protection, stimulation and nutrition and enable children to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills. These goals can be achieved through high-quality childcare.
Family care is stressful for many parents
Even if family care is a positive experience for most children, it can weigh heavily on caregivers, especially if they are experiencing a time or financial crunch. For many parents, their childhood experiences, mental health and well-being will affect their parenting ability; and successful parenting will become a learnt, not inherent, skill. Caring for a child can be one of life’s most gratifying experiences. Still, without adequate support, parents can become stressed, exhausted and forced to make excessive sacrifices in their education, employment and social life. The next section looks at the informal and formal childcare that can support them.
When parental leave ends, some children attend organized childcare in kindergartens, preschools and other early education centers. It can relieve fatigued parents and enable them to return to work or attain a balance between paid work, self-care and caring for others (Brilli et al., 2016). Such care, if of high quality, benefits children by fostering cognitive and social-emotional skills. Interactions with other children support children’s social, emotional and behavioural development, giving them skills they can use in school and in their lives outside school.
Such care, if of high quality, benefits children by fostering cognitive and social-emotional skills. Interactions with other children support children’s social, emotional and behavioural development, giving them skills they can use in school and in their lives outside school.
Which children benefit from early education?
Early education and care may be especially beneficial in preventing children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and children whose parents left education early, from falling behind their peers in cognitive development in the early years (Heckman and Raut, 2016). In this way, access to early caring and educational experiences outside the home can have an equalizing effect on children’s development and life chances. The main challenge is to ensure that childcare is accessible, affordable, equitable and high quality.
Due to the lack of comparable data, the quality of childcare is measured in this report through the inputs, such as children-to-staff ratio and caregivers’ qualifications. Low ratios and small groups enable every child to get enough attention from the caregiver, which enhances their safety and development.
Results do show that parents are more satisfied with childcare in countries with affordable prices. Enrolment follows both affordability and good opinion of care services.
Which countries offer quality childcare?
Luxembourg, Iceland and Sweden occupy the top places; the best performers manage to combine affordability with quality of organized childcare. They also offer generous leave to both mothers and fathers, giving parents choice how to take care of their children.
However, no country is a leader on all four fronts suggesting that there is room for improvement everywhere, even among the more family-friendly countries.
Slovakia, the United States, and Cyprus occupy the bottom places. Weak investments in parental leave and childcare appear to indicate that childcare is seen more as a private rather than a public responsibility.
Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand, Finland and Denmark have the highest quality of childcare. Denmark, Finland and New Zealand combine a low children-to-staff ratio with high qualifications of caregivers to ensure that children get sufficient attention from trained personnel.
Early education during COVID-19 pandemic
Even before COVID-19, some of the world’s richest countries were failing to offer comprehensive childcare solutions to all families. In some instances, this reflected their policy priorities rather than available resources.
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged children’s education, care and well-being even more as parents struggled to balance their responsibilities for childcare and employment, with a disproportionate burden placed on women. In the context of lockdown and school closures, childcare was one of the worst affected family services and had a significant knock-on effect.
UNICEF has previously called for a set of four key family-friendly policies: paid parental leave, breastfeeding support, accessible quality childcare and child benefits (UNICEF, n.d.; Gromada et al., 2020).This report shows how governments can help parents through paid parental leave, followed by affordable and high-quality childcare.
During the pandemic, more than 80 countries introduced some type of lockdown, which affected 6 out of 10 children in the world (Gromada et al., 2020). Such restrictions inevitably impacted childcare: many formal providers have closed temporarily, while some informal providers, such as grandparents, became unavailable. Working parents struggled to balance family and work life, with a higher toll placed on women.
Despite the role that childcare policies play in development for children and work–life balance for adults, some of the world’s richest countries still fail to offer comprehensive solutions to all families. Childcare policies play a key role in development for children and work-life balance for adults.
Countries can improve their childcare policies as follows:
- Provide a suitable mix of paid maternity, paternity and parental leave for mothers and fathers in the prenatal period and in the first year of a child’s life, to ensure that parents can spend time caring for and bonding with their child.
- Make accessible, flexible and affordable quality childcare available to all parents. Such access will allow families to realize their preference between earning, using informal childcare and using organized childcare.
- Invest in the childcare workforce, their qualifications and their working conditions, to encourage the highest possible standards. Low children-to-staff ratio should enhance quality by ensuring that each child gets enough attention from qualified personnel. Implement National Quality Frameworks for Childcare services to regulate and maintain standards
Read the full publication Where do rich countries stand on childcare?