Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Child Care: Still the Cinderella of Education?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Child Care: Still the Cinderella of Education?

Article excerpt

IT HAS become increasingly worrisome that the marked variations in the payment of benefits to single parents across Europe are now being matched by a growing number of reports about the lack of availability of child care. Added to this is a picture of very poor pay and poor conditions of service imposed on the child-care workers in many European countries. Indeed, there seems to be little prospect of improvement without standardizing training across the continent and giving much higher priority to the provision of child care in general. In some countries almost half the child-care workers in government-funded establishments are untrained, and the majority of child-care workers in the voluntary and private organizations in Europe have little or no training.

All of this must be considered against the background of the growing number of single parents now found in many European countries. Moreover, whether or not they are single parents, increasing numbers of women who have children under the age of 10 are joining the work force either part time or full time.

At the end of 1993 a report issued by EUROSTAT (the statistical office of the European Community) drew a picture of marriages under strain and increasing conflict between work and home life. Highlights of this report follow.

* One in five babies was born out of wedlock (accounting for nearly 50% of births in Denmark and about 33% in France and the United Kingdom).

* Fewer women were marrying, and almost 15% of women between 20 and 39 years of age in the EU member states lived alone.[1]

* Women were living longer (at least six years longer) than men and outnumbered the men in every EU member state.

* Despite the fact that women made up slightly more than 51% of the EU population, they were poorly represented in top government jobs: in the European Parliament and in national parliaments, women held just 12.6% of positions.

* The percentage of mothers with children under the age of 10 who were employed full time varied from 79% in Denmark to 23% in Ireland.

* Between 1985 and 1988 the percentage of women with children under the age of 10 who were employed full time increased significantly, by as much as 7.7% in the Netherlands and by the 6% in the United Kingdom.

Significant variations exist across Europe in the benefits made available to single parents. In general, the northern nations have provided about 50% of the average national income as a benefit for unemployed single parents of either sex. Britain, by contrast, is far from generous and pays only about 38% of the national average wage to single parents who are unemployed. In Denmark and in the Netherlands more than 60% of the average national income may be paid to unemployed single parents. In Belgium the figure is 59%; in France, Germany, and Luxembourg, it is between 50% and 55%.

Even more difficult and problematic is the plight of single parents in many Mediterranean countries, where they must still rely heavily upon their relatives for financial support. Spain and Portugal, for example, provide virtually no state benefits to single parents. In Greece a single mother who is unemployed receives only $3.68 a month in benefits, while in Denmark she would receive $1,162 dollars, plus free kindergarten care and subsidized housing.

MORE WOMEN are entering the work force, and the provision of child care and real improvement in the training of child-care workers are becoming matters of high priority. Any initiative concerned with either the provision of child care or the training of child-care workers will thus become the focus of much interest.

In this respect the experiences of the EUROFORM Child Care Project may be relevant. Funded by the European Social Fund and supported by the European Commission, this was an initiative that brought together training institutions in Scotland, Germany, and Portugal and sought to develop a European dimension in child-care training. …

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