Re-framing of childcare in Germany and England: from a private responsibility to an economic necessity.

Author:Ruling, Anneli

1 Introduction

Like most post-industrial welfare states, England and Germany increasingly face similar challenges that can be described as a sectoral shift from production to services, an aging population and a changing household structure (Esping-Andersen 1999; Pierson 2001). These challenges--among others--have been caused by growing labor participation of women and changing gender roles, which result in an increasing need for care services for the elderly and for children. These services, which in the past were mostly unpaid caring work provided by women in the household, increasingly need to be 'externalized' (Esping-Andersen 2006) and are consequently either taken over by the welfare state or organized through the market.

Both West Germany and England had a traditionally low public involvement in early childhood education and care. In the conservative welfare state of Germany with a strong male-breadwinner model (Lewis and Ostner 1994), care for young children was considered the responsibility of mothers. Similarly, in the liberal English welfare state, intervention in the family was traditionally low except in cases of child neglect or abuse. However, both countries have experienced dramatic reforms in the last 10 years in relation to childcare: The first step was the introduction of public childcare for pre-school children (aged 3-6 in Germany and 3-5 in England) throughout the 1990s in both countries (Evers et al. 2005). The second step was the expansion of early childhood education and care for children under 3 years of age.

This paper analyzes this 'second step' of the expansion of childcare for children under the age of three since it is the more recent and--culturally--more contested reform. As it will be shown, in both countries the shifts in the meaning of childcare that occurred with the introduction of care for children under three marked significant discontinuities with their institutional and cultural paths (Ruling 2008). The gender and family models embedded within welfare policy can be understood as policy paradigms (Bacchi 1999). The observed changes challenge the underlying norms on gender relations and the upbringing of children, that are deeply rooted in the cultural understanding of the welfare state. How could these changes be explained?

Interestingly, when analyzing these recent reforms in the extension of childcare, the main theories that explain policy development fail.

* First, from an institutional perspective, a stronger path dependency would have been expected (Pierson 2001). Public responsibility for the care of infants and young children constitutes a novelty in both countries and breaks away from a policy of non-state intervention in this field.

* Second, from a theory of gender welfare analysis, which would also hint at stability rather than change, these changes in policies and institutions also signify at least a partial modification of the underlying family norms and gender ideologies (Daly 2000; Lewis 2004), as well as of the cultural understanding of childhood and education in both countries (Pfau-Effinger 2000; Kremer 2005).

* Third, the rapid expansion of family policy coincides with the return of social democracy into office in both countries. Consequently, a theoretical perspective that 'parties matter' (Seeleib-Kaiser 2003) could be considered as a theoretical frame for this analysis. However, since in both countries childcare for children under three was introduced only in a subsequent term of office (the second in Germany and third in England), it cannot be considered one of the top priorities of either of the social democratic parties in charge. Later on, the childcare agenda was also adopted by the conservative parties in Germany and England indicating a more sustainable and thorough policy change.

* Furthermore, from a theoretical perspective on power structures, it would be difficult to explain how childcare entered the political agenda in the first place. Childcare and family policy have never been high on the agenda of trade unions or other social actors of aggregated interests. The expansion of childcare comes long after it had been put on the political agenda by the women's movement in the 1970s. In both cases the governments in power introduced these reforms not in response to social movements but as part of their welfare state modernization, in reaction to changes in society and the economy.

In family policy, especially in the field of child-rearing, cultural norms and values are of utmost importance (Bacchi 1999; Kremer 2005). It is therefore assumed that, within the political sphere, the cultural norms around education and care would need to change in order to enable such a significant shift in policy. The central hypothesis is that the changes found mark a shift in meaning within this policy field, which also explains why childcare climbed high on the political agenda of both countries. In order to explain this policy change, a central argument of the paper is that the use of scientific research had played a central role in this reframing process. It will be shown that cultural norms and values around gender, the family and the upbringing of children have been changed in the two countries using 'objective' evidence and 'economic' rationality. Along with the reframing of the political discourse on childcare, an 'objectification' of the arguments could be observed. Especially in the case of England, 'evidence' was explicitly opposed to values and personal opinions in the political discourse. Also in the German 'sustainable family policy', the evidence base played an important role. However, it will be shown that the different rationalities prevailing in the two national contexts are themselves culturally embedded; therefore there is no 'objective' rationality as such.

The theoretical approach follows an interpretative explanation of the policy change that marks a culturalist turn in policy analysis, looking at policy discourses and normative frames of policy development (Fischer 2003; Nullmeier et al. 2003). In contrast to 'classic' approaches, agenda setting and policy formulation processes are not assumed to be the result of political actors' rational behavior, but of their interpretative process (Schneider and Janning 2006). These interpretative processes documented in public debates are analyzed using policy papers, political debates or interview texts (Nullmeier et al. 2003). When analyzing these texts, special attention is paid to the framing and the legitimation of policies (Ullrich 1999; Fischer 2003).

The empirical findings presented here (1) are based on document analysis of key policy documents and parliamentary debates as well as scientific studies commissioned by the two governments and expert interviews. In each country 5-10 semi-structured interviews were conducted with members of parliament, government officials as well as key scientific advisors in the field of childcare policy. The transcribed interviews, parliamentary debates and government texts were scrutinized using content analysis (Mayring 2000) and frame analysis methods (Deutungsmuster-Analyse) (Ullrich 1999).

2 Traditions in childcare and early years' services in Germany and England until 1998

West Germany (2) was characterized as the archetype of a conservative welfare state (Esping-Andersen 1990). This welfare model presumed a gender division of labor inside the family that was based on a male breadwinner model with a female homemaker and caregiver. From a feminist perspective, West Germany was also characterized as a dual welfare state with a traditional male breadwinner model (Lewis and Ostner 1994). Since the 1960s, women's employment rates have been rising and the traditional breadwinner model has been modernized, allowing mothers to work, although usually only part-time. (Pfau-Effinger 2000).

Apart from this gender division of labor in the household, cultural norms and values around childhood and childcare were also an important factor. In West Germany, childcare and social services were traditionally considered obligations of the family, with the mother seen as the primary responsible and best caregiver, especially for small children. This norm was institutionalized in the West German welfare state, which supported motherhood and home-based care through various fiscal and leave policies for mothers of younger children (Ostner 2006). In a representative study in the year 1996, 80% of men and 72% of women in West Germany agreed to the statement that an infant or a young child would suffer if his/her mother was in employment (Statistisches Bundesamt 2007: 522).

In congruence with the gender ideals of the female homemaker and caregiver, the upbringing (Erziehung) of children in West Germany was considered to be the family's responsibility. Until recently, a strong institutional division existed between the tasks of education (Bildung), childcare (Betreuung) and upbringing and socialization (Erziehung): while education was only the responsibility of the school and the educational system, childcare and upbringing were considered to be the duty of parents (Deutscher Bundestag 2005: 44).

The separation of education and upbringing became established with the institutional division between the educational system and the public care for children in difficult family situations and foster care (Jugendhilfe), as well as in the differentiation between the professions of the teacher and the social worker (Gottschall and Hagemann 2002). Education was understood in the German context merely as the responsibility for the cognitive development of children. This presumption led to a system of half-day schooling, while social skills were to be learned outside the education system, within the family and civil society (ibid.). This allowed only part-time employment of mothers with school-aged children.

Only in 1996, in the context of German re-unification, was a legal right...

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