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Kitas: Why are parents suing for a childcare spot in Germany?

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Kitas: Why are parents suing for a childcare spot in Germany?
A Kita in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA
12:50 CEST+02:00
The shortage of Kita spots throughout Germany has led some parents to turn to private day care centres, or even take legal action.

The Müllers enjoy their time together with their two-year-old daughter Lisa, but the two academics also want to work. 

But the southwest city of Stuttgart where they live does not make it easy for them to accommodate both parenthood and their jobs. For two consecutive years they unsuccessfully applied for a place in a local Kita, or a public preschool, even though they met all of the deadlines.

"We stood in three institutions on places 120, 80 and 41 on the waiting list," recalls Alexandra Müller. 

The public kindergarten would have cost them only 300 or 400 per month - much less than they pay for a private school. The difference amounts to a total of 7,000 to 8,000 per year, and they are currently trying to sue in court as a result. 

They are not the only ones: in 2018, the administrative court in Stuttgart received 34 lawsuits about childcare, in 2019, there have been 16 so far. In Munich, 165 cases have been filed since the introduction of the legal entitlement to a place in August 2013.

A shortage of spots

The reason for their long wait: a lack of childcare workers. According to the German Education and Science Union (GEW), there is a shortage of 100,000 skilled workers in kindergartens throughout Germany.

Lisa is one of more than 6,800 children in Stuttgart, including more than 4,600 under the age of three, who were left without a spot in one of the city's Kitas over the past year.

The youngster is now starting her second year at a private kindergarten in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, a neighboring community of the rich state capital of Baden-Württemberg.

READ ALSO: How each German state plans to improve childcare and lower kita costs for families

The Müllers are not an isolated case, however: according to a study by the German Youth Institute (Deutsche Jugendinstitut), the demand for Kita spots for children under the age of three is still twelve percent more than what's available. 

In Munich, around 9.7 percent of the specialist educational positions, and around 7.4 percent of the positions for supplementary staff - such as child care assistants - are currently unfilled in the municipal day-care centres.

The situation in Munich is comparable to that throughout Germany, says Ursula Oberhuber, city spokeswoman. 

A Kita in Dresden. Photo: DPA

And it's only becoming more difficult, as young families are moving en masse to the city due to its job offerings and nearby recreational activities. Yet new day care centres are not being opened - or only being opened with limited hours - due to the shortage. 

"We feel the shortage of skilled workers quite clearly,” said Ulrike Grosse-Röthig, spokeswoman for the Federal Parents' Representation of Children in Child Day Care Centers and Workers. 

There are consequences, said Grosse-Röthig, such as fewer staff per child and shorter opening hours.

"Many nursery nurses are now retiring and there is a lack of young talent," explains Grosse-Röthig. The occupation also has image problems. 

"For 10 years, we've been talking about the teaching profession in a bad way. Now the same thing is happening to childcare workers,"

Grosse-Röthig expects the shortage of staff to increase further, which will be exacerbated by a new law, set to go into force from 2025 on, which allows children to attend all-day schools.

A lack of qualifications

Stephan Wassmuth, Chairman of the Bundeselternrat (parent council) is convinced such a set-up can only work "with multi-professional teams, and we also need childcare workers there". 

The salary for such workers, however, has not seen an increase for a long time. "They let it slide for far too long," says Wassmuth. According to the GEW, the majority of nursery teachers currently earn around 3,500.

"All states are miles away from the personnel key that research considers necessary for good educational work," says Björn Köhler, GEW board member for youth welfare. 

READ ALSO: 'The teacher shortage is the worst its ever been'

The ideal would be eight three to-six-year-olds - or three toddlers - per staff member.

In addition, the Kitas also bring on board employees who do not have the necessary pedagogical qualifications. 

"Many states fill their gaps with newcomers," says Köhler, referring to a list of job descriptions by the Hamburg Senate that can be considered for work in daycare centers after a crash course. They are trusted to do so, from master carpenters to graduate engineers.

Nothing against a carpenter

Parents' representative Grosse-Röthig would have nothing against a carpenter who could teach the children valuable activities. 

"What we see critically is when people without any qualifications take over the care." Kitas are not just for looking after children, but also for educating them, she added. 

Therefore the federation must invest more: The funds of €5.5 billion from the Good-Kita-Law (Gute-Kita-Gesetz), to last until 2022, were a fraction of what a federal-state working group had identified as needed - or €10 billion a year.

Stuttgart, for example, is trying to lure those who want to become nursery nurses with above-average pay, inexpensive staff rooms, usually open-ended contracts and heavily discounted monthly tickets for local public transport.

A new alternative?

Until recently, some interested parties were deterred by the long training period of five years and the school fees, but for some years now there has been an alternative: practice-integrated training (PiA). 

This takes three years and is paid, in the first year with €1,100, in the second with €1,200 euros and in the third year with €1,300, explained Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD). Applications for the PiA have recently increased, she added.

More men are also becoming interested in the training - in Baden-Württemberg, their numbers increased from 87 in the first PiA year 2012/13 to 689 in 2018/19.

Yet the Müllers and their fellow plaintiffs are not currently benefitting from the fruits of these efforts. The legal situation has been unclear since a court ruling in 2017.

The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig stated that parents who bring their child to a more expensive private kindergarten due to a lack of municipal daycare space and inappropriate day care times are not necessarily entitled to reimbursement of the additional costs.

Vocabulary

Accommodate/balance (a few things at once) - unter einem Hut bringen (literally: ‘bring under a hat')

Child care workers - (die) Erzieherinnen

Child care assistant - (der) Kinderpfleger/(die) Kinderpflegerin

Staff member - (die) Kraft

Newcomer/career jumper - (der) Quereinsteigern/(die) Quereinsteigerin

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know.

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