Create a “public early childhood service” for families? The idea appears in the program of candidates for the presidential election of all stripes: Emmanuel Macron, Valérie Pécresse, Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot or even Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Although not yet detailed at this stage, the project would consist of guaranteeing each family the possibility of obtaining childcare for young children. Today, despite an ambitious family policy, 4 out of 10 families remain without a solution, according to a recent report by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (Cese).
In order to remedy this, the candidate Emmanuel Macron would consider transferring this competence – hitherto the prerogative of mayors – to the National Family Allowance Fund (Cnaf). “We are starting work to define what our place would be to make the public service of early childhood a success”, thus explains the Cnaf. This unprecedented transfer, which would make it possible to resolve territorial inequalities, “would be a major change that will require years of discussion”, says Florent de Bodman, founder of the 1001 Words association and author of several studies for the Terra Nova think tank.
What to fear the return of a sea serpent? The idea of a public early childhood service is not, in itself, new. “She appeared when Dominique de Villepin was at Matignon”, recalls Élisabeth Laithier, head of early childhood at the Association of Mayors of France (AMF). Since then, put forward many times, the idea has always been rejected due to technical difficulties. “That this idea is progressing on the occasion of this election is therefore a good thing, but we must also be clear vis-à-vis the families and warn them that such a project will probably take ten years, because it supposes s ‘address structural problems, starting with the lack of personnel’, picks up the chosen one.
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However, in recent years, the state has tended to withdraw, giving way to increasing privatization of the early childhood sector. Between 2018 and 2019, out of 10,800 new places, 7,900 were created in microcrèches, i.e. private structures in the for-profit sector, the cost of which is higher for parents. Over the same period, there were therefore only 2,900 additional places in public and associative crèches.
An affordable “public service”
How, then, to maintain an affordable “public service”? Some avenues exist but require massive reorganizations, as evidenced by a recent report by sociologist Julien Damon and business manager Christel Heydemann. They propose a radical solution: allow parents to keep their child until his first birthday, thanks to a better paid parental leave; thus emptying the existing crèches of children under 1 year old in order to then redistribute the places to older children, up to 3 years old. But such a big bang is not put forward by any candidate.
Another part of the problem: if crèches are traditionally at the heart of attention during the election period, they are, in fact, only a minority form of childcare. Today, the real challenge concerns childminders, those nannies who look after the little ones at home: “150,000 of them – a third of the profession – are due to retire within eight years”says Sandra Onyszko to Ufnafaam, the organization responsible for representing them.
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This future labor shortage is no mystery to anyone: the Cese, the High Council for the Family, the Igas and the Court of Auditors have all alerted to this problem, without the public authorities actually take it. It would therefore be urgent to rethink the pricing – which remains less favorable to families than a place in a crèche, around €1.40 per hour compared to €1.20 – but also, Sandra Onyszko argues, “to work on the attractiveness of this profession which suffers from isolation, even from a lack of consideration, while nurseries are constantly valued”.