Whenever the matter of how to enable young parents to have jobs as well as kids has been debated over the last few years, company-run kindergartens unfailingly came up. There are a number of positive examples that the various interest groups and of course the politically responsible minister can point to. There has been undoubtedly a trend at large companies to not only offer a cafeteria for their employees, but also child care for their offspring. These child-care establishments usually are easily up to par with those run by churches or the local government. The quality is closely monitored, and often even higher than for the average public child-care facility.

 

One reason for this is that during a time when well-trained personnel is hard to find, big companies who can afford, see company-run child care as a way to attract candidates. And not only in rural areas, but especially in densely populated cities in western and southern Germany, where historically child care facilities have been scarce. After all, for a long time the classic model of a working father and a stay-at-home mother was seen as the ideal family in West Germany. In the DDR things were different. The socialistic ideology demanded that women should also work. Even today, 25 years later, those politically motivate differences can still be felt.

 

Practical considerations add to that: A person will be more inclined to accept a job offer in a different city if they know theis offspring well looked after close to the new job location. For some, that might be an even more decisive factor for or against the new job than other more „substancial“ factors like wages or vacation days. Therefore, companies that offer child-care on location gain a competitive advantage.

 

However, one has to differentiate, as all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

It’s less the matter of doubting anecdotal accounts and examples; not at all. However, reality is such that company-run childcare is still very very much for a lucky minority, compared to the overall number of working parents. One reason for this becomes obvious when you look at the statistics. Most companies in Germany have 5 to 50 employees. For companies of that size, the financial burden of running a child-care facility would be too high, while at the same time, the number of employees‘ children is often too low to warrant a full establishment. Solutions have been attempted, for example in shopping centers, where different shops pooled their resources, to invest in a shared establishment. Similar things have been done in business districts and industrial areas. Despite these examples, though, company-run child care is unlikely to become wide-spread in the near future.

 

The „Mittelstand“, those small (and often family) businesses have been a cornerstone of Germany economy ever since the time of rebuilding after World War II, when big companies had been as devastated as the country’s government. In terms of child-care, though, this part of German economic structure turns into a a disadvantage, especially since (other than in France of Italy, both of whom have high levels of child-care) government run businesses have become scarce after bout of privatizing.

 

Hence, despite all the bright examples which they love to point to, policy makers won’t be able to hide from the continued challenge of creating an environment that allows both parents to work. In addition to the legal right for child-care for children of one year or older and the strong growth in facilities offering those services, there are many other ways to improve the ability to reconcile family and careers without systematically disadvantaging young mothers; namely flexible work hours (working time accounts, home-office, video conferencing etc), parent-child rooms at a quiet part of the company location or maybe even a 24-hours nanny service, whom children can be entrusted to on short notice in case of business travels.

 

In all this, one basic need to modern family politics usually gets ignored: the need to give parents more time to spend with their children.

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