Where do rich countries stand on childcare?

Where do rich countries stand on childcare?
How should we compare early learning and care systems?

A new research report has been published by UNICEF which evaluates the parental leave and childcare policies in high-income countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU).

Using the most recent comparable data, the authors built a league table which ranks each country on eight indicators grouped into four dimensions: leave; access; quality and affordability of childcare. The top performing countries were Luxemburg, Iceland and Sweden. The best performers manage to combine affordability with quality of organised childcare. They also offer generous leave to both mothers and fathers, giving parents the choice on how to take care of their children.

Ireland ranked 36th out of 41 countries overall. The country performed especially poorly in the areas of affordability and leave. In terms of access only, Ireland ranked in the top third. Quality indicators were not computed due to lack of comparable data. Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland have the least affordable childcare for the middle class. In those countries, a couple with an average income would need to spend between a third and a half of one salary to pay for two children in childcare. In terms of leave policies, when factoring in both the length of leave and rates of pay, Ireland is among the least generous countries, offering less than the equivalent of 10 weeks of full pay.

The report concludes with nine recommendations for how policies can be improved to provide comprehensive solutions to all families. In summary, they are:

  1. Provide a suitable mix of paid maternity, paternity and parental leave for mothers and fathers in the prenatal period and in the first year of a child’s life.
  2. Leave should be gender-sensitive, yet gender-equitable.
  3. Leave should be inclusive and granted not only to full-time employees but also those in non-standard forms of employment or training and support the costs related to birth and parental care.
  4. Align the end of parental leave with availability of childcare.
  5. Make accessible, flexible and affordable quality childcare available to all parents.
  6. Publicly provided and regulated childcare can facilitate access for low-income families, as well as ensure standards in provision.
  7. Invest in the childcare workforce.
  8. Encourage employers to support working parents through inclusive and gender-sensitive paid leave entitlements, flexible work arrangements and childcare support systems.
  9. Provide leave policies and childcare services with family policies, such as universal child benefits.

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