What the shortage of daycare staff means for parents

As of: March 9, 2024 11:28 a.m

There is a shortage of around 430,000 daycare places nationwide. Daycare centers are often unable to fulfill their mandate for early childhood education due to staff shortages. What helps against a “daycare collapse”?

By Sonja Hößl and Cornelia Benne, BR

Early childhood education instead of just care – that is the goal of the Munich daycare center “Haus für Kinder”. But just like in many other daycare centers across Germany, there is a lack of staff for this. There would be space for around 145 children. However, some places cannot currently be filled because there are no educators.

But parents whose children have a place also have to improvise when the already scarce specialist staff is absent due to illness. The lack of staff frustrates Bianka Dangl, the head of the daycare center: “Due to the lack of staff or absences due to illness, we cannot accompany and support the children in the way we want.”

A problem that concerns daycare centers all over Germany. According to the Bertelsmann Foundation’s “Country Monitoring for Early Childhood Education Systems”, there is a shortage of around 430,000 daycare places across Germany. However, more and more parents want professional care – especially for their younger children.

Bertelsmann Foundation

The Bertelsmann Foundation was founded in 1977 by the entrepreneur Reinhard Mohn, then head of the Bertelsmann media group. According to the group, the foundation now holds more than 80 percent of the shares in Bertelsmann Verlag, which includes the RTL Group and Penguin Random House, among others. For its studies, the foundation collects and analyzes data and makes recommendations for action to decision-makers.

Legal entitlement to a daycare place often cannot be fulfilled

Since 2013, parents have actually had a legal right to a daycare place for children older than one year old. The requirement has been in effect for those over three years old since 1996. “The shortage of skilled workers is making it increasingly difficult to fulfill legal requirements and implement the educational mandate in daycare centers,” explains Anette Stein from the Bertelsmann Foundation.

The situation had become intolerable for children, parents and the existing staff. According to the Bertelsmann Foundation, an additional 98,600 skilled workers would have to work in daycare centers in order to meet parents’ current care needs.

High strain on daycare staff

The lack of daycare places and staff shortages are not just a problem for parents. If there is a lack of educators in the daycare centers, the existing specialists have to look after more children and are exposed to a significantly higher burden. This is also reflected in an evaluation by the health insurance company DAK. The sickness rate among daycare workers was above average at seven percent compared to other professional groups in 2023.

In order to draw attention to the impending collapse in Bavarian daycare centers, the “Daycare Center Specialists Bavaria” association presented a petition to the Bavarian state parliament in February 2024. The petition “Stop the collapse of the daycare system” with over 14,000 signatures calls, among other things, for a higher care ratio – i.e. fewer children per specialist.

The head of the social committee in the Bavarian state parliament, Doris Rauscher, accepted the petition. From the SPD politician’s point of view, the situation is getting worse: “We are actually facing the collapse of the daycare center. We know that the financing is no longer adequate, there is a lack of staff. And the attractiveness for those who still work in the daycare center “It’s not really that high. Many people leave the daycare sector.”

The Education and Science Union (GEW) also observes this. She is noticing increasing career exodus – i.e. daycare staff leaving the industry. “It starts during training because colleagues notice the staffing levels and see that they can’t do what they’re actually doing for the job,” says Hilger Uhlenbrock from the GEW.

One solution: shorten opening times

So how can you reduce stress in daycare centers? The parent initiative “Donaupfauen” opened in Neustadt an der Donau, Bavaria, in September 2023 – with short opening hours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The aim is to relieve the burden on staff, but parents should also benefit from it. The opening times are shorter than in other daycare centers, but this time slot is reliably staffed with enough specialist staff. According to the initiative, the short working hours made the search for daycare staff easier.

But it can only work in Neustadt because the parents have support with childcare in the afternoon. “Grandma and Grandpa step in in the afternoon and we actually need that so that I can work for two whole days,” says Sonja Prasch, whose children visit the “Donaupfauen”.

The parent initiative “Donaupfauen” has short opening hours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Career changers could relieve the burden on daycare centers

But not all parents have the opportunity to rely on grandparents or work part-time. So further solutions are needed to avert a daycare center collapse.

According to the Bertelsmann Foundation, as a short-term solution, the educational staff in the administration would have to be relieved. Career changers could also help. In the long term, however, a strategy would have to be developed to attract new skilled workers and retain current staff with more attractive working conditions. This requires close cooperation between the federal government, states, municipalities and sponsors.

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