Early Childhood Development: The Role of the State

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The European Union recognizes the importance of the early years of life; referring to it as 'a window of opportunity in which the basis for all later learning processes are laid'. The EUs 'childcare' policies form an integral part of its strategy for growth and jobs and aim to help young parents – and in particular women – into work. As such a range of the EUs policies, programmes and initiatives aim to affect the lives of young children and their parents in a positive manner.

Central to the EUs childcare policies are what popularly are known as the 'Barcelona Targets' that were agreed upon during the 2002 Barcelona Summit of the European Council. These state that by 2010 the member states should ensure that childcare is provided 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.
Childcare services in the EU.

Education, Audivisual and Cultural Agency on ECD, Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe: Tackling Social and Cultural Inequalities (publication).

European Union institutions and initiatives

European Alliance for Families. In 2007 EU heads of state and government established the European Alliance for Families which intends to create impulses for more family-friendly policies through exchanges of ideas and experience in the Member States. Their website provides links to national pages, some of which well developed, others under development.

Eurydice. The information network on education in Europe, Eurydice is an institutional network for gathering, monitoring, processing and circulating reliable and readily comparable information on education systems and policies throughout Europe.

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Eurofound, is a European Union body aimed at contributing to the planning and design of better living and working conditions in Europe which includes working on sustainable childcare services. For detailed information see Eurofound Research on Childcare Services in Europe, paper presented at UNICEF IRC by Gerlinde Ziniel, Research Manager at Eurofound on the 11th of March 2008. For direct access please click on the following link: Euro found Research on Childcare Services in Europe.

Parental leave, the Social Partners sign the revised version of the framework agreement - 18/06/2009. The new Framework Agreement concluded by the social partners increases the duration of parental leave from three to four months per parent and applies to all employees regardless of their type of contract. It is the result of six months' negotiations between the social partners and reflects the changes that have occurred in society and on the labour market since the first Framework Agreement on parental leave was signed in 1995. Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities attended the official signing this morning.

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