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EDUCATION

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

Germany wants to improve pre-school care across the country and reduce costs for families. But how does each state plan to do it?

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

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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FAMILIES

How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Most Germans say that family is the most important thing in their life - but what are the realities of raising children in Germany? We take a look at the outlook for families, and how much it really costs to raise a child.

A young girl with a piggy bank
A young girl with a piggy bank. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

The outlook for families in Germany

According to a recent report on families and finance by German payments provider Mollie, there are 11.4 million family households in Germany at the moment. Around 35.6 percent of these households have just one child, while 26.5 percent have two, and the rest have three or more.

Children under the age of 18 live in 8.2 million family households, and in the remaining 3.4 million households, families live with adult children. 

When it comes to the birthrate, Germany general falls in the middle of other European countries, with each woman having an average of 1.54 children. 

The so-called lockdown baby boom may be having some impact on the numbers: in March 2021, more than 65,000 babies came into the world in Germany. This is the highest number of newborns the country has seen in a single month since 1998. 

However, the authors of the study say the link between the birthrate and Covid may be a little more complex than that. While there were indeed record births in March, the birthrate only crept up by around 1.4 percent in the first part of the year as a whole. 

“This suggests that the pandemic has had little to no impact on family planning,” they explained. “Though families and couples may be keeping a closer eye on their finances and planning their spending more carefully since the pandemic.

“However, since there also hasn’t been a dramatic decline in births, current financial constraints nevertheless don’t seem to be having an impact on births in Germany either.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about parental leave in Germany

Cost of raising a child

Many parents will tell you that you can’t put a price on having children, but the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) would beg to differ. According to the latest data, raising a child in Germany will set you back around €148,000 by the time they turn 18 – and the costs increase along with the child’s age.

Here are the average annual costs of raising a child by age, according to Destatis:

  • 0-6 years old: €7,000 per year
  • 6-12 years old: €8,200 per year
  • 12-18 years old: €9,400 per year 

So, what are the main expenses involved in raising a child? According to Destatis, food, education and the cost of childcare in the first years of life all make a major dent in the family budget. Then, as children get older and develop other hobbies and interests, spending on leisure, entertainment and culture tends to also increase.

When comparing affluent families with low-income families, there was a clear difference in how much was spent on raising children. In 2018, poorer families spent an average of €424 per month on each child. Wealthy families, on the other hand, spent €1,212 euros – almost three times as much.

What about pocket money? 

Though it’s definitely not the largest expense involved in bringing up a child, many parents grapple with the question of how much pocket money to give their children. Luckily, the German Youth Institute (DJI) has recommendations on that, conveniently divided into different age groups as the chart below shows.

Chart showing recommended pocket money for kids

Chart showing the recommended pocket money for children at different ages. Source: German Youth Institute

For small children under the age of six, for example, €0.50 to €1 a week is the recommended pocket money, while teenagers aged 14-17 years should get between €26 and €63 a month, depending on their exact age.

By giving children pocket money each month, parents can teach them how to manage money better at an early age. With a fixed monthly amount, they ideally start to understand what they can afford and what they can’t, and also learn to prioritise the things they want or need the most. 

In addition to pocket money, DJI also suggests parents set aside a monthly budget for the child’s other expenses that can be managed by either them or older children. Adjusted for inflation in 2020, this budget includes €30-50 a month for clothes and shoes, €20-30 for eating out, €15-20 for public transport, €10-20 for a phone contract or credit, and €5-10 for stationary and toiletries respectively.

What financial help is there?

Though raising a child may feel financially unmanageable for some, Germany does have a wide range of government benefits available – especially for lower income and single parents.

Parents in Germany can access child benefits (Kindergeld), maternity benefits, parental allowance and tax relief while bringing up a child. From Kindergeld alone, parents receive €219 per child for their first and second child, which goes up to €225 for the third child and €250 for additional children after that. 

A mother and child
A mother looks after her child while working from home. There are many sources of financial help available for single and low-income parents in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Single parents also have the option of getting an advance on maintenance payments from the government if the other parent fails to meet their obligations. The Federal Foundation ‘Mother Child’ (Mutter Kind) also offers help to mothers with small incomes in particular. 

The state also provides special support for families with low incomes, such as stipends for education and participation so that the child can take part in cultural and educational activities.

READ ALSO:

Financial support for pupils and students

For 50 years now, the Federal Government has been providing students with financial support for their education.

Regardless of the financial situation of their parents, young people receive BAföG, the so-called Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz), during the period of their training and studies.

Since the start of 2020/21 Winter Semester, the maximum BAföG stipend has been €861 euros per month, provided the student doesn’t live with his or her parents and financial assistance from the family is no longer possible.

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