Formal childcare for young children before they start nursery school (école maternelle) has a dual objective: to support parents’ professional activity and to foster children’s cognitive development. Whilst the current shortfall in the childcare offering in France hampers the reduction of social and gender inequality, a number of measures are increasing recourse to childcare in day nurseries (crèches) and with child minders.
Government policies for childcare for the under-threes are two-pronged: to support parents’ professional activity and to foster children’s development until they start nursery school (école maternelle). They encompass all postnatal leave arrangements, financial support to cover the cost of formal childcare with a child minder or in a day nursery (crèche), and the provision of a day nursery service.
In the first few months of a child’s life, care by the parents is the most beneficial, all the more so when it is provided by both parents. However, after the first year, formal childcare, particularly in a collective childcare, is preferable for the child, especially if they are from a disadvantaged background. In the long term, funding childcare places for young children enables them to develop their abilities and human capital in general, and helps reduce social inequalities.
The unequal day nursery offering throughout France sometimes hinders access to formal childcare and limits the parents’ ability to work, in particular in single-parent households. In addition, the net cost of formal childcare restricts its use by low-income households. Childcare by parents is mostly provided by mothers and it distances them from the labour market when it lasts too long. As a result, it exacerbates social and gender inequality.
Improved governance by defining a leader from among the many stakeholders is required in order to expand the day nursery childcare offering. In addition, bringing the net cost for childcare by a child minder, which is incidentally less costly for the public purse, more into line with that for childcare in a day nursery, as provided for by the 2023 Social Security Budget Act, would spur recourse to formal childcare by low-income households.