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EXPLAINED: How each German state plans to improve childcare and lower Kita costs for families

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EXPLAINED: How each German state plans to improve childcare and lower Kita costs for families
Children play at a Kita in Wandlitz, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA
14:51 CEST+02:00
Germany wants to improve pre-school care across the country and reduce costs for families. But how does each state plan to do it?

In this article we have provided an overview of planned changes but get in touch with your local government for detailed information on childcare in your area. You can also keep an eye on plans by checking out this government website.

Daycare centres (Kindertagesstätte or Kita for short) are in the spotlight as Germany aims to provide a higher quality of pre-school education for youngsters, reduce the costs of childcare for families, as well as decrease the burden on working parents. 

Why are childcare costs different across Germany?

Germany is a federal country so the cost of sending children to kindergarten differs widely depending on where you live. 

Last year a study released by the Bertelsmann Institute showed the vast difference in costs for daycare centres across the country.

In Schleswig-Holstein in the far north, for example, parents tend to pay the most - on average nine percent of their after-tax income was spent on childcare costs. Meanwhile, Berlin became the first state to get rid of Kita fees last year.

In fact, parents in around one-third of German states have no exemptions from childcare fees, while other state governments have either subsidized or completely lifted fees for certain age groups. 

In Rhineland-Palatinate children from the age of two have been exempt from contributions since 2010, while in Lower Saxony and Hesse, children from age three are exempt from fees.

As well as differing costs, there are also concerns over under-investment, underpaid nursery teachers/carers and a lack of spots for incoming children.

Day care centres in the south of the country have a better record of providing children with supervision than those in the east. In Baden-Württemberg in the southwesr, one carer looks after three children on average, while in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the far northeast a carer looks after six children, according to the Bertelsmann study. 

READ ALSO: Free for all? How Germany plans to tackle its childcare problem

A Kita in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

What's the government doing about it?

As part of the "Gute-Kita-Gesetz", (Good Kita Law), which was passed eight months ago, all of Germany’s 16 states are set to receive a share of about €5.5 billion from the government over the next three years. 

How do they plan to spend the money?

In many states, authorities want to invest funding in more staff in a bid to create better working conditions and longer opening hours (which means more Kita spots) as well as pushing up education quality.

At least 11 of the 16 states want to reduce or - at least for certain age groups - completely abolish Kita charges for parents, according to a survey by DPA.

When will these changes take place?

No money has been allocated to the states yet but the government has given assurances that the improvement projects are on track.

The funding will only be distributed to the states when all 16 of them have concluded individual agreements with the government. Bremen, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Saxony and Saarland are the only states who have concluded agreements so far.  

At least five further deals are planned to take place from the beginning of August to September in Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

"Negotiations with the federal states are developing positively overall," said a spokesman for Family Minister Franziska Giffey of the Social Democrats.

"All contracts are to be concluded over the course of the year," the spokesman added. "We expect a good balance between investments in quality and a reduction in fees."

The government’s main aims are to ensure children have the "best education" and have access to equal opportunities. Authorities also want to improve compatibility between family and work life to reduce the burden on working parents.

Here’s an overview of what we know so far:

BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG will receive €729 million and aims to create 660 new childcare places, among other measures.

BAVARIA is to get €852 million and will use more than half of that money to reduce costs for parents. From 2020, there will also be subsidies for parents of one-and two-year-olds attending Kitas. 

BERLIN became the first of Germany’s 16 states to abolish pre-school fees last year. 

The state now wants to use some of its grant, which totals €300 million, for administrative assistants who support kindergarten management. Money will also be used to provide specialist advice to educators and parents and - as a supplement to the creation of further daycare places - to expand daycare for children.

READ ALSO: How a childcare crisis is leaving Berlin parents stuck at home with their kids

BRANDENBURG plans to exempt an additional 43,000 children from low-income families from fees in the last year before they start school (25,000 children are exempt to date). The state’s subsidy of €165 million will also be used to extend hours of care, allow more time for guidance for youngsters from nursery teachers and to implement greater parental involvement, for example through advisory councils.

BREMEN In April, Bremen was the first state to sign the agreement with the government. The smallest of Germany's states is to receive €45 million by 2022. It wants to use the money to make the care of children from the age of three onwards free-of-charge. Kitas in socially disadvantaged parts of the city will also be put in focus and they’ll receive new and improved equipment.

Youngsters at a Kita in Hanover. Photo: DPA

HAMBURG already offers five hours a day of free care for all children from birth to school enrolment as well as free lunches. For this reason, the federal funds will not be used to reduce costs further, but instead for more nursery staff in relation to the number of children, and for additional language support services.

HESSE places the emphasis on better staffing and the recruitment of specialists. So-called practice-oriented training is to be expanded from 2020. There are also plans to offer trainees remuneration to make the job more attractive. 

MECKLENBURG-WESTERN POMERANIA plans to use its €104.5 million to get rid of all charges for parents starting in January 2020.

LOWER SAXONY wants to use more than half of the €526 million from the government for more staff, trainee recruitment, relief and further training for Kita managers. Around a tenth of the money will be used to extend  exemptions from fees to help families. 

NORTH RHINE-WESTPHALIA is the most populous German state and will receive €1.2 billion, the largest chunk of funding. A total of €200 million will be used to ease costs for parents. The state also plans to spend a further €230 million on language support, family centres with a wide range of counselling services and more flexible opening hours.

RHINELAND-PALATINATE In this state "almost 100 percent" of the funds are to be injected into quality development measures. One focus is to recruit more staff. Childcare for kids aged two and above has been free-of-charge since 2010 in this state. This will also apply to younger children from 2020. However, only a small part of the federal funds will be used for this purpose.

SAXONY is not choosing to invest in reducing parental fees but instead on improving quality. Since June, pedagogical specialists have already had time for preparation and follow-up work. The eastern German state will get €269 million from the federal government.

READ ALSO: These are the best places in Germany to send your kids to kindergarten

SAXONY-ANHALT is planning to recruit more staff with €140 million from the government. Authorities want to create 200 additional training places. There will be no more fees for trainees at private vocational schools. Half of the money will be used to expand the exemption from fees for sibling children in after-school care.

SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN wants to cap parental contributions and improve childcare. From 2020, two pedagogical specialists will be working directly with children in each daycare centre group. The northern state says that abolishing all pre-school fees is a "long-term goal".

THURINGIA has set itself the goal of a better care ratio for four to five-year-olds: Nursery teachers should, therefore, have fewer children in their care. With the help of €136.5 million from the government, a pilot project for practice-oriented training of educators is also planned. On top of the last year, the penultimate year of kindergarten will also be free of charge for families. 

SAARLAND is planning to cut parent fees in half by 2022. That will be funded by about  two thirds of the €65 million that the government will transfer to the state. In addition, there will be investments in more staff and the expansion of the number of daycare spots on offer.

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