EMCC European Monitoring Centre on Change

The childcare services sector – what future?

Sector Futures provides specialised reports based on the monitoring of existing foresight studies, scenario work, innovation studies and reliable data sources. April 2006 features the complete Sector Futures article series on the childcare services sector. The first article sets out to define the sector, outlining its market size, structure and employment figures, and looks at the trends and drivers shaping the sector. Subsequent articles assess these factors and review some scenario work relating to the sector’s future, before concluding with an analysis of major policy issues and challenges facing childcare services in the EU.

A distinct feature of childcare services in Europe is the level of diversity between countries, leading to different development stages of childcare in the EU Member States. As a result, a common vision for childcare services is currently lacking in Europe – one country’s aspirations for childcare services may already be another country’s reality. Nevertheless, the childcare services sector as a whole continues to be one of the fastest growing markets for care services in Europe. In some of the 10 new Member States, the childcare market is relatively undeveloped and is therefore expected to grow rapidly in the near future. In the former EU15, where childcare services have matured and developed, policy now focuses more on the quality of services provided and on flexibility for parents.

The Sector Futures articles present the case that Europe’s present vision for childcare has to change. Up to now, Europe’s main interest in childcare has been to facilitate the parent’s entry into the EU labour market, by making childcare more available and accessible at an early age. Today the greatest challenge for both policy and decision makers in the EU is to go beyond this vision and focus on childcare as a distinct economic activity – an activity with clear economic and social costs and benefits that relate to the development of children – while taking into account the impact on the economy and on society as a whole, and on the economic and social development of parents and children.

From defining trends and drivers…

The first of three articles in this series, Childcare services in the EU – what future?, delineates the childcare services in the EU and examines its market size, structure and the nature of employment. It then discusses some of the main trends and drivers affecting the sector, including: population and fertility; labour force participation, especially female participation in the workforce; delayed family formation; and childcare preferences. The article also examines the principal issues and uncertainties in relation to childcare services in the EU.

…towards visions for the future

The second article in the series, The childcare services sector – visions of the future, highlights the broad areas for debate that are likely to be high on the childcare agenda in the future throughout the EU. In addition, it outlines two future scenarios: one in which the EU embraces a vision for childcare and services covering the early years and another which lacks this vision.

Policy implications

Having reviewed the trends and scenarios and their implications, the third and last article in this series, The childcare services sector – future challenges, focuses on the broad challenges facing the childcare sector in Europe. It explores the role of the European Commission in the field of social and economic policy, rather than the specific policy issues facing individual Member States. The reason for this focus is that childcare systems and practices in Member States are at different stages of development, both in relation to timing issues and level of maturity. This implies that no one Member State faces exactly the same challenges as another.

All three articles are available for downloading free of charge as one pdf file: Sector Futures – The childcare services sector (ico_pdf 739Kb)
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