(Editor’s note: This is the second installment in our series on Berlin’s Kita crisis. Part 3 is scheduled for Monday. You can see Part 1 here.)
On 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).
One family in attendance at the Kita Krise demo were Archana, Ravi, and their one-year-old daughter.
Archana and Ravi, originally from India, moved to Berlin four years ago for their careers in the IT industry. Their daughter was born three years later, and after taking a year of parental leave, Archana was due to return to work in May. Despite beginning their kita search in Archana’s fourth month of pregnancy, and applying to between 30 and 40 kitas, they have yet to find a kita place.
“I was so hopeful at first. Our daughter hadn’t even been born yet, and I had already registered with around ten different kitas,” Archana said. “I was thinking about how organised we were, and how everything was going so well.
“To get to this point without a place was just totally unexpected.”
Although parents are entitled to three years of parental leave in Germany, financial benefits for parents end around a child’s first birthday. Archana’s paid parental leave ended on 12 May. But without childcare for her daughter, she has been forced to take additional, unpaid leave.
Lives on hold
Instead of going back to her job after one year as she had planned, Archana now dedicates all of her time to caring for her daughter whilst doing everything she can to find her a Kita place.
“Every day I try to find a solution. I apply to kitas; I go to different places to look for suggestions for what I can do next.” With no success, she has enquired at her local Jugendamt (Youth Office). Jugendamt workers have struck out, unable to find their daughter a place.
This situation has placed the family under a great deal of stress and has financial implications as well as implications for Archana’s long-term professional development:
We recently bought a house here in Berlin that needs renovating. But now, because I don’t have any income, we’re not able to get a loan for the renovations. They won’t approve the loan until I go back to work. I’m glad my job is protected for three years at least, but I’m worried about being away from work for so long. When you have a technical job, you need to be able to keep up. Being away from work for so long can be really damaging professionally. Being Ausländer [foreigners] we have no family here to help us…Now I’m in this pathetic situation where we’ve moved so far away from our homeland for our professional development, and I can’t even work.
A broken system?
Archana’s husband Ravi sees the Kita application system as inefficient and unfair.
“There’s no central online application system in Berlin” he explains, resulting in a “rat race” of parents running around the city applying with Kitas individually. “In such a developed country with so much technology, why is this the case?”
His concern is this lack of a central, transparent application system means parents don’t know what happens to their applications after they submit them, or even how Kitas are choosing which children to award their coveted paces to: “How do I know my application isn’t just going to be thrown into the rubbish bin?”
In short: he doesn’t!
According to the founder of an agency assisting parents in their Kita search, the lack of transparency and consistency in the system means there are no rules, “so-to-speak” as to how Kitas choose which children get places. She describes the current system as “a sort of closed silo” since parents have no way of knowing how decisions are made regarding the allocation of places.
When asked whether she felt the current system left room for discrimination, she replied: “There is no transparency, so of course there is room for discrimination.”
Elise Hanrahan, of the Kitakrise movement, explains how and why the current system is no longer fit for purpose:
The current system was created in a time before the crisis when there were more available places. It was based on the principle of freedom of choice for parents. So we have this diverse landscape of different Kitas – bilingual, Waldorf etc. – with the idea that parents could choose what they wanted for their child. Now, however, we have a different situation, where places are so limited. Now it’s the Kitas that are choosing the families, rather than the families choosing the Kitas.
The current system, which requires parents to directly submit and regularly chase up applications with kitas individually, “isn’t good for parents, and isn’t good for Kitas,” Hanrahan added.
An admissions process with no clear rules, transparency
Nadine, who has been working as an educator in Kitas since 2004, explained that it is not unusual for a Kita to have 200-plus families on their waiting list: “It breaks my heart that we have to say no to families. They all need a place for their child.”
At a certain point, Nadine explains, Kitas have to close their waiting lists or delete applications from the list.
She confirmed that in Berlin, there are no external regulations governing how Kita places are allocated. And that there is often no formal internal policy either. Preference generally goes to siblings, then to families who have secured a voucher for a higher number of hours of care, since these vouchers bring in a higher income for the Kita.
Kitas also try to balance the groups according to age and sex. Beyond this, it’s often down to a feeling about which families will fit best with the concept of the Kita, which means parents need the opportunity to make an impression.
She admits that this is not a transparent model. And that in reality, there’s no obligation for Kitas to award places fairly, and nothing preventing discrimination.
When asked whether she felt Kitas could adapt to a centralised system, with clearer regulations about how places are to be allocated, she enthusiastically replied: “Yes, they could definitely adapt. This would be a good thing.
“It would be much fairer to do it this way.”
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