The provision of childcare services
In recent decades, childcare services have become a mat- ter of serious public concern. Affordable and good-quality childcare services may improve the reconciliation of work and family life and thus foster labour market participation and gender equality. Childcare facilities may also provide an important answer to declining fertility rates, by lowering the cost of childbearing in terms of labour market and career opportunities. Finally there is a growing tendency to see childcare services from a social pedagogical perspective. In this perspective the main policy rationale is no longer the reconciliation of work and care, but rather the contribution of childcare services to child development and socioeconomic integration. The importance of providing childcare services has also been recognised at the EU level. At the Barcelona Summit in 2002, some explicit conclusions and targets were defined with regard to the provision of childcare services. Confirming the goal of full employment, the European Council agreed that Member States should remove disincentives to female participation in the labour market and strive to provide childcare by 2010 to at least 90 % of children between 3 years old and the mandatory school age and at least 33 % of children under 3 years of age. The importance of these targets has been reaffirmed as recently as 2008 in the employment guidelines (2008–10) adopted by the Council.
The results provided in this report, the score of the European Member States on the Barcelona targets and the ongoing debates suggest that the childcare issue will remain an important policy priority in the near future as well. Despite all the efforts and improvements, high- quality and affordable childcare facilities are still in short supply in quite a number of European Union Member States. The availability of the EU-SILC data enables an assessment of the current state of affairs and allows for a careful monitoring of the measures taken in the different Member States. This information, in combination with the emphasis on the provision of childcare services within the context of the European employment strategy, should provide the necessary basis for a policy which is targeted towards a coherent socioeconomic infrastructure, keeping in mind the policy goals with regard to participation, gender equality, fertility and social integration.