(Editor’s note: This is the first installment in our series on Berlin’s Kita crisis, with Part 2 scheduled for Wednesday.)
“Hi! We should be moving to Berlin soon, and speaking to a relocation consultant I got an apocalyptic picture of how difficult it could be to get our kid into kindergarten … with a waiting time of up to one year. Is this an exaggeration?” asks a parent in a Berlin expat forum.
“They’re not exaggerating, brace yourself,” replies a fellow parent.
“I’d say 1 year waiting time is on the optimistic side,” adds another.
“Maybe compare it with how easy it is to find an affordable flat.”
“It’s so bad people are suing the city and winning!”
“Any recommendations for a lawyer? 😜”
It’s no secret that the city of Berlin is growing at an astonishing speed. And whilst this may be good for industry and economic growth, the city is finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the requirements of such a fast-growing population.
One area in which Berlin is falling drastically short is in its provisions for childcare and early education, where it could be argued that the city has over-promised and under-delivered.
Berlin has long been considered an attractive option for expats looking for a family-friendly city to set up home. Whilst the grownups are attracted by the relatively low cost of living, booming start-up scene, and the city’s legendary lifestyle and culture, there is also a lot about Berlin that appeals to the littlest members of the expat family too.
With an abundance of out-of-this-world playgrounds; a large number of children’s cafes and other businesses catering exclusively for families; and a liberal German attitude toward children and their upbringing, Berlin ticks many requirements of the perfect family-friendly city.
What’s more, on paper at least, there are a wide range of options for early education within Berlin’s Kindertagesstätte (more commonly known as “Kitas”) that care for and educate children between ages 0-6 — Bilingual, Montessori, Waldorf, and forest Kitas, to name but a few — and all fully subsidised for Berlin residents.
Since 2013 Berlin residents have had an official right to a childcare place for all children over the age of one year old. And over the last two years, parental co-payments towards the costs of childcare have been gradually phased out. As of August of this year, childcare places will be completely free for all children under school age, funded entirely by vouchers issued to parents to use in any Kita (or recognised alternative) of their choice. Fantastic!
That is, IF you can find a spot!
In March this year, the Senatsjugendverwaltung (Senate Youth Administration) officially recognised a shortage of around 2,500 Kita places in Berlin, with other estimates placing the figure even higher.
And for every missing place is a family that has been affected, often with considerable professional, economic, and developmental implications. Parents are unable to return to their work or studies; companies are losing valuable employees; and perhaps most importantly, children are losing out on opportunities for important social and educational development.
“We all know that infancy is a really import phase of the human life. We will never learn so much like we do in the first 6 years of our lives” (Thay, Educator)
“At the end of the day, we all want what is best for the kids, and this all starts in the Kita.” (Nadine, Educator)
Parents demand their rights!
All over Berlin, concerned parents and educators are standing up to draw attention to the current situation, and demand their rights.
An online petition — started by parent Christine Kroke, and addressed to both the Senator for Education, Youth and Family and governing Mayor of Berlin — is currently very close to its target of 75,000 signatures.
“We need Kita places! NOW!” the petition demands. “If we join forces to make our voice heard, politicians must act. Please sign for a solution to the Kita crisis!”
And on Saturday 26 May, parents, children and educators marched by the thousands to the Brandenburg Gate to draw attention to the severity of the current situation, and demand change. The demonstration was organised by a group of concerned parents, coming together under the banner “Kitakrise” (Kita Crisis).
We are a group of parents who are worried about the Kita place emergency in Berlin. Among us are German and international families; We are employees, managing directors, artists, job seekers and students. We are Berliners and newcomers. Berlin is our home and the city we love.
Elise Hanrahan, the organizer of the demonstration, explains their motivation: “Not enough is being done to address the seriousness of this situation. We wanted to push the message that this is not just a ‘tough transitional period’, this is a crisis!”
The movement argues that a functioning daycare system is one of the cornerstones of a vibrant and livable city. And that its absence has huge implications, not only for individual families but also more broadly for economic inequality, gender equality and social justice.
They explain that low-income families suffer the greatest financial impacts when parents are prevented from returning to work. And that women are disproportionately affected since mothers are more likely to take responsibility for childcare under these circumstances.
What’s more, they are concerned the increasing competition for scarce places will inevitably lead to discrimination, and that this could disadvantage immigrant families, racial minorities, children with disabilities, and children from non-traditional family models.
“There must be a Kita place for EVERY child,” they insist.
About the author:
Laura Kaye is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. Her work focuses on social and development issues, parenting and family life.
Originally from the Wirral in the United Kingdom, she is a serial expat now happily living in Berlin, Germany.
More posts by Laura Kaye