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Continue efforts to resolve waiting lists and expand participation among children under the age of 3

The ECEC enrolment of children under 3 has also increased during the last decade, particularly since the amendment of the law in 2011 which entitled children to ECEC from the age of 1.5. Figure 2.6 shows the positive impact this amendment and other policy efforts have had on enrolments of children under the age of 3.

Figure 2.6. Percentage of children under 3 in formal ECEC, hours per week (2005-13)

Source: Eurostat (2015c), “Formal childcare by age group and duration - % over the population of each age group (source: SILC)”, Eurostat database, Eurostat, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/product?code=ilc_ caindformal&language=en&mode=view (accessed 15 May 2015).

despite this progress however, participation rates are still relatively low compared to many oECD countries. in 2012 almost one in four children (23%) under the age of 3 were enrolled in formal ECEC, which is below the OECD average (33% in 2010). Some municipalities have struggled to adequately respond to the (growing) demand for such services. Shortages of facilities were fuelled by intensive regional migration towards mostly city areas. As a result parents and guardians in some municipalities, particularly in Riga and other large cities, have faced long waiting lists in recent years (MoES, 2015).

in response Latvia has implemented a range of policies and programmes to expand and diversify ECEC services, including by modernising its ECEC network. For example since 2009 the Latvian government has built or expanded 17 public ECEC institutions. An additional 61 were renovated by June 2014 through the Eu-funded “infrastructure and Services” programme (MoES, 2015).

other policy measures aimed at expanding access have used the public funding for children in private ECEC institutions. For example, in 2013 the Riga City Council was persuaded by parents to make funding rules for ECEC institutions more liberal, allowing private institutions to apply for municipal funding per child on the same basis as municipal ECEC institution. Another example is the earlier mentioned “Childcare support and child-minder service” pilot project that started in 2013 and provides financial support for parents who need child care support for their children aged 1.5-4 years but are not benefiting from public childcare. The combined co-funding paid for by the state and local government to the child should be enough to decrease parents’ expenditure on private kindergartens or child-minding services.

on the latter, the Ministry of Welfare in 2013 introduced the Child-minder Service in response to the fact that some municipalities had difficulties in providing every child with a place at an ECEC institution. The service is aimed at ensuring safe, meaningful and useful organisation of childcare, stimulating the child’s comprehensive development. Such service is an alternative to organising child-care at an ECEC institution. If the child does not get a place at an ECEC institution financed by the municipality, parents can entrust child care to a child-minder registered on the register of the Child-minder Service (see Box 2.3). Furthermore, the child-minder (family day carer) may receive state aid (EUR 142) and municipal co-financing; thereby partly or fully covering the costs of the service provided to the child (MoES, 2015).

The evidence shows these and other efforts by central government, municipalities and private persons are having their effect. For example in September 2014 there were 11 265 children in Latvia waiting for an ECEC place; a year later this number had dropped to 8 809 (MoES, 2015). MoES should continue to carefully monitor this process as further efforts are likely to be needed to meet the demand for ECEC in urban areas, particularly as migration from rural to urban areas is expected to continue in the years to come.

There has been much policy attention on expanding ECEC services in urban areas in recent years, and for good reasons and with good results although more needs to be done. The children in rural areas should not be overlooked, however. importantly, as will be discussed in detail in Chapter 3, there are considerable differences in student performance between students in rural and urban areas. Quality ECEC at an early age has the potential to increase children’s school readiness and diminish differences in later student performance. Latvia should therefore consider shifting its focus towards strengthening ECEC enrolments in rural areas as long as the services are of good quality.

Increasing enrolment rates in rural areas, especially for the youngest children, may require promoting ECEC among parents. In Norway, for example, outreach programmes and one-stop shops have educated parents about the importance of early child development and kindergarten’s role in supporting it. Some municipalities have developed outreach programmes to encourage greater participation by minority-language children in particular (Engel et al., 2015).

Moreover, programmes that involve raising parents’ skills and increasing parents’ opportunities for work, possibly in conjunction with broader efforts to enhance parental engagement, may increase ECEC participation. In Estonia, within the framework of the Strategy of Children and Families and its associated development plan, parenting programmes have been operating since 2012 covering such topics as child health and development, bullying in ECEC institutions, and children’s and parents’ rights. Some training courses are provided within ECEC institutions (European Commission/EACEA/ Eurydice/Eurostat, 2014).

Parenting programmes are often directed at the most vulnerable groups, as in Ireland and the United Kingdom (Wales and Northern Ireland). In the United Kingdom, for example, many schools have been providing extended services including a range of activities, childcare, parenting support such as family learning, and access to targeted and specialist support services (Carpenter et al., 2010).

Another such example comes from Latvia itself where between 2009 and 2013 the “Change Opportunities for Schools” project was implemented, turning small schools into multifunctional educational, cultural and social support centres. The main goal of this school-based community development project was to deal with the issue of social disintegration due to the economic crisis by offering support to maintain and revive small schools in rural areas, small towns and urban peripheries and to develop them into multifunctional community resource centres. While expanding and improving ECEC provision was one of the main tasks, considerable attention was paid to supporting parents through educational opportunities, social support, and consultations for job seekers and those wishing to start small businesses (Soros Foundation Latvia, n.d.).

Another policy option to strengthen enrolment among younger children living in rural areas is to lower the compulsory age of participation in ECEC. This is often considered an effective option from an equity point of view, as inequalities are likely to exist before schooling starts and tend to grow as long as school is not compulsory (oECD, 2013b). Latvia for now is not considering further lowering the age of compulsory ECEC to 4, but will actively encourage participation of all 4-year-olds. However, it should not limit its efforts to this age group and should concentrate on those children - and their parents - living in rural areas of the country.

 
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