Unexpected baby boom produces kindergarten shortage

The Czech government is being forced to address a serious problem. Following a decline in the birth rate after the fall of communism hundreds of crèches and kindergartens closed down. Now, the trend has turned - young women in their thirties are having babies - but they find that when they are ready to go back to work they have nowhere to place their children.

In 1990 the Czech Republic had over 1,000 creches and close to seven and a half thousand kindergartens. Today there are a mere 54 creches and less than 5, 000 kindergartens in the country. As a result kindergartens are packed and so they are having to reject one in every two applicants. Only a fraction of parents can afford to pay a full-time nanny which means that many mothers simply can't return to work when they are ready to. Often grandparents are ready to help out but - as parents point out - at the age of 3 or 4 their child needs to have social contact with others of their own age.

Petr Necas, photo: CTK
As a father of four Minister for Social Affairs Petr Necas knows the problems first hand and has suggested introducing a model tried and tested in France: namely that mothers who like being on maternity leave with their own kids and are not in a hurry to return to work could look after two or three more children, thereby creating a small private kindergarten.

"In such a case the mother would have to get accreditation from the social services, prove that she is capable of looking after small children and that she has appropriate living conditions in which to do so. I think that a mother who is looking after one child of her own under 6 could take on another four at the most for a certain fee which she and the parents of the child would agree on."

Some parents are apprehensive, but others say they are already doing something similar - pooling children at a friend's house in order to take care of urgent business. Martina Pojarova, a mother of two, says it is always good to have a choice:

"You can decide for yourself whether you trust your neighbor enough to put your children in her care. For instance I can ask two or three friends to do this for me and it would be a great help because although we have four kindergartens in the neighborhood there are no vacancies. So I must say I appreciate the idea and I am not afraid of any problems - it should work well for me."

Minister Necas has another idea which he would like to push through - but which would take a while longer to produce results. He wants to encourage Czech companies to set up kindergartens for their staff in return for tax relief.

The Social Affairs ministry is now working on a draft amendment to the law which would make that possible. A lot depends on how it is received in Parliament - but given the fact that -like the minister -quite a few MPs have young children this is one law that could get the necessary backing.