Eva Hilberg By: Eva Hilberg
Post-Doctoral Fellow
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19 Jun 2020 : The persistent question of childcare

This entry has been very much delayed due to the enormously challenging question of childcare, or rather the continuing absence of it. Over the past weeks, it has been at first immensely stressful and then increasingly draining to keep working around constantly changing work schedules and the energetic schedule of a two year old. In a way, I feel as though I have gone right back to being a student, working at night mostly, and feeling tired and irritable during the day.


Childcare is currently in the process of being slowly re-opened in Germany, but different states and also different regions (and, indeed, every single kindergarten) are choosing different ways in which they operate. So while there are long state-specific lists of people considered ‘system relevant’ – with copious amendments, it is Germany after all – there are then very diverse local provisions based on the number of children they can accommodate. Due to the need of ensuring that there is no cross-over between groups, it also remains to be seen how reliable this new normality may prove – if one carer is off sick, then the whole group has to close. If one child falls ill with coronavirus, the whole kindergarten has to close (at least that’s what I’ve been told). 


In the meantime, for some children this will result in being able to return to childcare one day a week – but with no hot food and only for the morning. Others will get more permanent allocations, but the necessity for accessing childcare is being assessed in a new way compared to the weeks before (bear with me… I know this sounds ridiculous and convoluted…). While some people were essential just a few weeks ago, during the most pressing time, they may now find themselves no longer as relevant – because now both parents have to be employed in order to take up the ‘emergency’ allocation (before that, it had been assessed only on the basis of the person considered essential, with no regard to their partner). Other people, however, have been upgraded to being ‘essential’ and are now finally ‘in’. This creates enormously challenging conditions for the local kindergarten administration, which has to decide as to whether they effectively boot some children out to make space for new ones – or if they try to adjust things in another imperfect way. Needless to say, this process is very emotionally charged, as discussions on the local Whatsapp parents group show. Even having two full-time jobs in general, or being full time self-employed, is not enough to qualify – and there is no consideration of the particular needs of people that do not have any relatives or other people that can help them during the day. Long story short, it’s a mess.


With all of these rules and new categories giving the situation a veneer of being under control in some way, as soon as you probe them in any way, the illusion fades. No one has any idea of how these categories should be applied or interpreted. Things are literally being made up as we go along, with hardly any oversight. The most annoying part in this is the official document explaining the rules – or absence of rules – which also reminds you that your children benefit from socialising with peers at kindergarten and that childcare is essential for enabling people (read: women) to have careers and children at the same time. I bloody know and I would write a strongly worded letter pointing out all the many facets of hypocrisy contained in these statements – if only I had some time for it. 


(Update: While I was writing this – veeery slowly, over a couple of weeks – a date for a return to ‘normal’ has been set for the 6thof July, so there is hope! I'm pretty sure that I shall be writing more on this topic fairly soon...)

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