Priority rules for working parents cause chaos in daycare centers: ‘Interpreted differently everywhere’

Priority rules for working parents cause chaos in daycare centers: ‘Interpreted differently everywhere’
Priority rules for working parents cause chaos in daycare centers: ‘Interpreted differently everywhere’

“We don’t have to have any illusions about these new rules,” says Maud Blondé (29) from daycare center D’n Opvang in Ostend. “They will be interpreted differently everywhere in Flanders.”

She is referring to the new priority rules for childcare that came into effect on April 1. They stipulate that subsidized daycare centers must from now on give ‘absolute priority’ to families where the parents are at least four-fifths working or are following a training course four days a week that leads to work. Crèches may reserve a maximum of 10 percent of their places for families that do not fall under them.

In an information brochure, the Growing Up Agency explains how daycare centers should apply these new rules. However, many organizations feel that the brochure raises more new questions than it provides clarity.

For example, the Agency states that the new priority rules should only be applied if simultaneous questions are received. If a daycare center receives multiple requests at the same time, working parents should be given priority.

Priority rules

But, and this is the crucial question, what is a ‘concurrent application’? Smaller daycare centers in particular do not receive a new application every week. The brochure states that crèches can decide for themselves whether ‘you allocate places depending on the questions received’, or ‘you have your questions come together (weekly, monthly) and then make a choice’. In other words: crèches can decide for themselves whether to bundle the applications or process them separately.

“We are going to apply the rules exactly as they are described,” says Blondé. “We will only apply these priority rules to applications that arrive at the same time. But we fear that these rules will be applied in other places to keep vulnerable children out of care.” The daycare center makes an extra effort for vulnerable groups and, together with eighteen other organizations, registered a protest against the new priority rules at the Constitutional Court.

‘Intensive’ course

The Local Desk that assists daycare centers in Brussels also notices that there is a lot of uncertainty in the sector. What, for example, about the ‘intensive’ route to work? “Many parents look for work on their own or follow part-time training,” says Annelies Gryffroy of the Brussels childcare desk. “For many crèches it is not clear what should happen to those people now. You cannot expect that they now have to apply for a job with their child in their arms.”

The Growing Up Agency indicates that local counters can take the initiative to coordinate with daycare centers how the new priority rules are interpreted. For example, the Brussels counter has decided together with the sector that the crèches have seven months to adapt to the new arrangement. According to Gryffroy, this transition period is necessary to put many things in order.

For example, in Brussels there are still 3,000 families on the waiting list for a place in childcare. “We have no information about whether four-fifths of them work or are in training, while we have to ask this about new applicants. If a place becomes available in January next year, they will not be able to make a fair comparison between the people on the waiting list. That is why the counter will request information about their work situation from all 3,000 previous applicants in the coming months.”

Not only from the sector, but also from politicians, there is criticism of the few concrete regulations that crèches have to comply with. “There is a threat of total arbitrariness,” says Flemish Member of Parliament Celia Groothedde (Green).

Member of Parliament Hannes Anaf (Vooruit) also regrets that there is no clearer communication with daycare centers. “Previously there was uncertainty about whether parental leave would count or not. It was already painful that the Flemish government had to introduce these priority rules. But if you introduce them, it is also your duty to communicate clearly about them.”

Ann De Moor from De Ketjes childcare center.Image RV

Fierce resistance

The criticism about the unclear communication comes on top of the fierce resistance that has already been voiced against the priority rules. Under the name The Childcare Case, nineteen organizations, including several daycare centers, have already gone to the Constitutional Court to challenge this arrangement.

A number of crèches have already indicated that they do not follow the rules down to the last detail as a matter of principle. Among them is Ann De Moor (61) of the Brussels daycare center De Ketjes, who fears that vulnerable families are in danger of becoming victims. Forty percent of the children in her daycare would not have a place under the new rules. “If we want to represent the Brussels population, these new rules are impossible. There are many parents here who work part-time or have just started a course. If you leave those children out in the cold, you deprive them of all development opportunities. We do not want to participate in that.”

Flemish Minister of the Family Hilde Crevits (CD&V) insists that the current approach is the right one. “We are working hard to expand the number of places in childcare. But as long as there is a shortage of space, you have to work out an arrangement if there are multiple requests for the same place.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Priority rules working parents chaos daycare centers Interpreted differently


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