Flanders invests less than €3 per child per hour in daycare

Flanders invests less than €3 per child per hour in daycare
Credit: Belga

The Flemish Government invests just €2.9 per hour per child in nurseries, which the sector says will contribute to higher risks of even more accidents, such as those making headlines in recent months, taking place.

Flanders invests three times less in the already struggling child care sector than Sweden, which is seen by the region as an example for the sector, according to calculations by expert Wim Van Lancker (KU Leuven), reported by De Standaard on Wednesday.

"In the Netherlands, this is €6.2 and in Sweden €8.8. We want to be like Sweden, but here the care is used even more intensively and we don't pay for it. If we continue like this, there will be even more accidents," he said.

Sweden is a guide country for Belgium because parents there can choose whether to keep their child at home for longer.

"Who asks for a place in daycare there, gets it within four months. Parents can also choose to take parental leave during the first year of life," childcare expert Michel Vandenbroeck (UGent) said, stressing that this right to choose is pivotal, but that quality childcare should be an option.

Crisis in childcare sector

Flanders has the highest child per carer ratio in Europe, which unions have argued is untenable and should be brought down to five children per carer. They argued this puts the health and safety of children in nurseries.

However, the region's childcare sector has been struggling with the insufficient inflow of new skilled staff, resulting in a shortage of childcare workers, further exacerbated by the pandemic, which heavily impacted the sector and prevents taking down the child per ratio in Belgium.

In the past, Wouter Beke (Note: Flemish Minister of Welfare, Public Health, Family and Poverty Reduction) has been criticised for shifting the problem away from the sector, which resulted in this issue snowballing even harder.

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These issues concluded in the Green Party (Groen) and socialist Vooruit party submitting a proposal for a resolution, asking the government to reform training and to improve working conditions in the sector.

'Structural risk'

On Wednesday morning, a committee hearing was held to discuss how this should be approached, during which Van Lancker presented his figures.

During this meeting, Vandenbroeck, whose students wrote their thesis about the crisis, stressed that a small minority of students in childcare actually want to or are capable of working in that sector, and that they need to be given more career perspectives to make this profession more attractive.

"Our Flemish problem is a combination of a lot of children per carer, low qualifications and little continuous support on the shop floor, as well as the unstable employment conditions, and the combination of these three are really a structural risk that we must do something about," he said.

He pleaded for a States-General on childcare to be created to combine various stakeholders and agencies, because the problem encompasses several different professional domains.

Experts also stressed that the region will have to sit down with the federal level to extend the birth leave because four months is "really too little."

Beke's cabinet on Wednesday afternoon confirmed to The Brussels Times that, in 2024, the government will spend €790 million on childcare in Flanders, up from €513 million in 2015 and €623 million in 2019.

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