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Generous family leave time. Reduced tuition for child care programs. Fewer requirements to receive government support. These are some of the policies other countries have taken to ease the burden on parents or providers during the coronavirus pandemic, some of which come from nations that have long been supportive of children and their families, according to a new brief from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).
The brief highlights how several countries have taken especially bold steps to support child care and families, with some policies offering a stark comparison to America, where the nation’s already fragile child care system has struggled during the pandemic. Some experts estimate up to half of all child care centers in America could close their doors by the end of the pandemic due to decreases in enrollment and increased costs. Centers that have remained open are struggling to survive with smaller class sizes while often paying for extensive changes to their programs to keep kids and staff healthy.
While the United States provided some American workers with parental leave in the spring under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, experts say that policy left out many families that are especially in need of that benefit. And although the federal CARES Act provided $3.5 billion in emergency funds for child care and centers could apply for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, center directors have had trouble getting those funds and many advocates say more funding is desperately needed to keep centers afloat until the pandemic is over.
Here’s a look at what other countries have done to boost families and early ed systems this year. Several of these are featured in the NCEE brief:
Austria and Germany: Parents in Austria and Germany were able to apply for childcare benefits under simplified rules. In Austria, a requirement to have child health examinations before receiving childcare support was waived and in Germany, the country simplified requirements for reporting income to apply for child care support.
Canada: Canada set aside the equivalent of $475.5 million US in federal funds to subsidize child care centers during the pandemic, according to the NCEE brief. Ontario provided an additional nearly $112 million US in funding to pay for protective equipment and help providers make up the gap in income due to lower enrollment numbers.
Japan and Korea: Parents in Japan have been able to access subsidized family leave time during the pandemic so they are able to stay home and care for children while daycares and schools have been closed for in-person learning. Parents in Korea received 20 days of family leave under a bill passed in September, with an additional 5 days provided for single parents and low-income families.
Singapore: In Singapore, the government required preschool programs and student care centers to cut fees by 50 percent for a month.
Ireland: Parents in Ireland did not have to pay child care fees for three months and the government subsidized and increased child care provider salaries.
A report released by UNICEF earlier this year also highlighted several of these countries and argued that “adequate and gender-balanced parental leave policies” as well as access to non-family childcare is the “clearest policy solution” to the “global childcare crisis.” This is especially important for single parents, the report found. The authors also recommended that governments provide public childcare, subsidies for care and even legally require employers to provide or support childcare.
Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Early Childhood newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Wednesday with trends and top stories about early learning. Subscribe today!
This story about child care and families was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.