Germany is a rich country with a pretty great social and welfare system. Yet, a few things really aren’t up to scratch.
One of the huge problems we have is with childcare for children under three. Legally, every child has a right to a place in a nursery. Realistically, there are nowhere near enough publicly funded places. The private institutions can charge whatever they want, making many of them so expensive that most families can’t afford them. The legal claim means you can sue the city for a place but might then get sent to a nursery the other side of town. Alternatively, the city might have to help with the costs for a private place, but there is no guarantee for this.
The run for public and funded places therefore is immense, especially in large cities. This leads to absurd things: parents signing up for waiting lists as soon as they know they’re expecting, signing up for as many as twenty institutions or even more, driving half way across the city to drop off one’s kid, thus spending a good portion of the time the little one is being looked after on the road rather than working. I still remember how horrible I felt, having just found out I was pregnant but already trying to organize a place to take my future child so I could work again after a year. I’d love to stay home for three years, but unfortunately that’s not an option financially.
Another absurd consequence is that today was the first time I wrote a letter of application for a place in a nursery, telling them why F. is the right child for them. Lucky they’re not asking for a letter of reference, but taking my word for it. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad thing that they want to know our attitude towards their paedagogical concept and that we tell them a bit about our family. If anything, I think that’s lovely. But the fact that we’re having to apply for it like for a job says a lot about our society. Why is that we pay the least to those who look after the most fragile – the children, the sick and the old? I’ve been to look at nurseries that have space to take in another group of children, but can’t do it because they can’t find the staff.
Our society needs children to ensure the taxpayers of today will be getting a pension some day. Yet we’re not exactly making it easy for people to bring up children. Politicians have started talking a lot about this issue, promising to make it easier to combine working life and family life. However, we’re still a long way from that. I can only hope things will be different for F. and his generation when they become parents one day.