Angelina Romanchik holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) degree with a specialization in Political Science from the University of Ottawa. She is an experienced researcher and her areas of interest include domestic and global politics, American foreign policy, social issues, and civil & human rights. Angelina is currently undertaking a Canada Summer Jobs placement as a Research Support Officer at the Forum, where her research includes federalism and childcare.
Childcare is emerging as a key area of policy interest for many governments across the globe, particularly in the wake of the pressures that the COVID-19 pandemic instigated on the family unit. Childcare is a distinct policy field, but one that also cuts across other significant areas of governmental responsibility: health, education, and social welfare. Federal systems of government, by virtue of the fact that approximately forty percent of the world’s population live in federations, play a significant role in the provision and efficacy of childcare globally. Both the development and implementation of childcare policy requires a successful collaborative effort between all levels of government. Often, multilevel governance can hinder the effective actualization of these policies, and this reality can be observed in global north countries such as Canada, Germany and Switzerland. Global south countries like Brazil, India, and South Africa also see similar issues between government systems and the realization of social policy. The trends observed amongst the aforementioned federations in the global north and global south highlight intersecting similarities and challenges which have implications for childcare policy development and service delivery. Exploring and understanding the relationship between governance and childcare policy in federations provides an opportunity to re-evaluate how child welfare and development is approached in federal and federal-type systems. In late 2021, the Forum conducted an international comparative research project on this very topic. Increased knowledge of policy and practice in federations can support identification of dynamics that impact childcare provision and quality, and thus pave the way for improvements in childcare delivery by federal and subnational governments in both the global north and global south.
Division of Responsibilities
In three global north countries explored in the Forum’s study – Canada, Switzerland, and Germany – subnational governments play the largest role in the administration and provision of childcare and early childhood education. Federal (or national) governments play a limited role in this regard, and their primary function is often providing financing for childcare – for example in the form of monetary child grant provisions to low-income families. The case slightly differs in the global south countries studied – South Africa, India, and Brazil – where the federal governments have a broader range of childcare responsibilities and particularly focus on child protection services. In these countries, subnational governments generally play a more limited role in the direct delivery and administration of childcare.
Emerging Trends: A Comparative Analysis
Within the scope of the current body of knowledge, a prominent issue identified across all six countries studied is that childcare is affected by a lack of adequate funding. Canadian federal governments, for one, have expressed numerous times how expensive childcare is in the country, acknowledging that not all families are able to access it. In point of fact, one of the flagship policy initiatives of Justin Trudeau’s incumbent government is the establishment of a national childcare program – The Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan – which aims to bring the costs of childcare in Canada down to $10 CAD per day by 2026. Similarly, as developing economies with significant degrees of child poverty, South Africa, India and Brazil could also benefit from increased funding for childcare initiatives. Of all six federations investigated in the Forum study, the only country in which a lack of funding was not highlighted as a significant issue in the evidence base was Germany. This is not necessarily indicative, however, that childcare financing is challenge-free for governments in Germany. The allocation of additional funding for childcare and an increase of government-sponsored grant and subsidy programs would be of great benefit in all of the federations examined in the Forum study.
An interesting and prominent trend discovered amongst the global south countries examined is the high degree of parental and extended family member involvement in childcare. This potentially suggests that, in countries such as South Africa, it is the family unit which is primarily responsible for childcare, with national and subnational governments taking on a secondary, facilitative role. This also suggests a dependency relationship between the government and the family with regard to the day-to-day care of children. For example, literature on South Africa identifies the significant role that grandparents play in childcare in the country (Cantillon et. Al, 2021). Acknowledging the function that grandparents have in childcare in South Africa, the government increases the pensions of grandparents who have children in their care, reflecting the importance of familial networks supported by government funding (Cantillon et. Al, 2021).
In global north countries, a number of setbacks and challenges concerning oversight and regulation were observed. In Canada, for example, researchers have highlighted a lack of understanding of roles at different levels of government when it comes to the implementation of childcare policy (Cammisuli, 2021). This often results in delayed and sub-optimal childcare policy provision at the local level (Cammisuli, 2021). A need for collaborative, multilateral approaches between government agencies at all levels was also noted (Cammisuli, 2021). In Germany, historically there have been tensions between national standards and the autonomy of local authorities concerning childcare (OECD, 1998). This raises questions about the challenges of social policy development and implementation in federal systems, and how political tensions can be navigated in multilevel governance systems. Further research on intergovernmental conflict and collaboration in relation to childcare would support the identification of good practices and the approaches which lead to more effective service delivery.
Perhaps the most common and striking difference between the global north and south countries examined in the Forum’s research on childcare and federalism is definitional. Specifically, there is variation between countries as to what constitutes childcare, or what kinds of services fall under the governmental childcare framework, and thus which level of government is responsible for them. Forum research suggests that governments in the global south, and particularly federal governments, are first and foremost concerned with the development and implementation of child protection services. Additional child care services such as daycares and education programs – that are more of a primary focus in global north countries – have less prominence within the childcare policy area. For example, the Indian governments prioritize the development of policies and administration of services that protect children from a wide array of predatory behaviors (Arya; Ghanghaash, 2021). Similarly in South Africa, the government is committed first and foremost to child protection initiatives (Department of Social Development, 2019). This is certainly not the case in the global north countries explored. It is possible that, in more economically buoyant countries, there is more policy space to focus on child education and development, whereas in emerging countries governments are primarily concerned with protecting children from the social dangers that accompany poverty.
Finally, federal governments from Canada and India have taken on new initiatives to address the issues posed to children and childcare in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. The COVID crisis arguably gave the Canadian federal government the push it needed to develop a comprehensive pan-national childcare plan after many years of neglecting the issue. The aforementioned Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan, a multi-faceted effort to support parents in their childcare roles and to increase child care grants and funding, is thus in part a response to the inadequacies in Canadian childcare provision that were laid bare by COVID. Similarly in May of 2021, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s government launched the PM Cares for Children project, which hopes to address the challenges posed to Indian children specifically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether the effect of the COVID crisis will prompt governments in other federal countries – either at the national or subnational levels – to identify and address gaps in childcare provision remains to be seen. But as with many other areas of social welfare, the pandemic appears to have prompted policy makers in federal countries to reconsider how services can more effectively meet childcare needs within their jurisdictions.
The aforementioned trends ultimately highlight how challenging the development and implementation of social policy can be, especially within federal systems of governance in which there are multiple governmental players who fulfil different roles. A fundamental aspect of federalism is the decentralization of political power, yet many federations encounter challenges with the concentration of power in the hands of the federal or national government. In global north and global south countries alike, the successful development and implementation of childcare policy is hindered by a number of factors, including a lack of consensus between all levels of government. As a result, social policy areas suffer as governments struggle to come to agreements on policy issues, including childcare. Childcare is thus an area that demonstrates the importance of the de-centralization of political power and the need for healthy intergovernmental relationships for public policy processes and service delivery to be effective within a federal system.
The author would like to thank Liam Whittington for his support and edits on this piece.
Arya, Sudhanshu; Ghanghash, Sanjeev. (2021). ‘Child care policies in India: Issues and challenges’. Journal of Civil & Legal Sciences, vol.10, no.5, pp. 1-7. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/child-care-policies-in-india-issues-and-challanges.pdf (Accessed: 18 May 2022).
Cammisuli, Joseph. (2021). ‘Child care policy and the limits of Canadian Federalism: The Feminist perspective’. Undergraduate Journal of Political Science,vol.5, no.2, pp.84-89. https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/respublica/issue/view/2433/474 (Accessed: 18 May 2022).
Cantillon, Sara; Moore, Elena; Teasdale, Nina. (2021). ‘COVID-19 and the pivotal role of grandparents: Childcare and income support in the UK and South Africa’. Feminist Economics, vol. 27, no.1-2, pp.188-202. https://journals-scholarsportal-info.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/pdf/13545701/v27i1-2/188_catproituasa.xml (Accessed: 18 May 2022).
Department of Finance Canada: Budget 2021: A Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2021/04/budget-2021-a-canada-wide-early-learning-and-child-care-plan.html (Accessed: 18 May 2022).
Early Childhood Education and care policy in the Federal Republic of Germany. (1998). https://www.oecd.org/education/school/33979281.pdf (Accessed: 18 May 2022).
Ministry of Women and Child Development: Government of India: PM Cares for Children. https://pmcaresforchildren.in/ (Accessed: 18 May 2022).
South Africa National Child Care and Protection Policy (2019). South African Social Security Agency. https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/202102/national-child-care-and-protection-policy.pdf (Accessed: 18 May 2022).