Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Nanny State

Hooray for the nanny state!

We have found a place for La Fille at the Halte Garderie, a sort of drop-in nursery, in Paris. The way it works: she can go for up to four hours in the morning or up to four hours in the afternoon up to five times a week. Each four-hour slot costs the princely sum of 10,28 euros (£7.15). The place is run by an exceptionally friendly woman and is remarkably flexible. They do not mind her dropping out for a fortnight at a time, and will not even charge us for missed days, if I give them 24-hours notice. Frankly, it is the least I can do. I was keen that, having taken her out of the full-time crèche, she should still have a chance to play with children her own age and this is perfect.

State child-care facilities in France are really very good. The crèche, run by the local Mairie or town hall, cost us 23,75 euros a day (£16.51). It is less for children from large families or parents on low incomes. It, like other state-run crèches, took infants from birth and was from 8am until 6.30pm. Lunch, an afternoon snack and nappies were included. The charges were tax deductible.

Given this, it is hardly surprising that every new French mother’s dream is a place in a crèche. Each adopts her own tactics for persuading the civil servant that heads the Mairie’s committee for allocating places, that her life depends on getting one. Some cry, some ring every day to cry, some picket the offices crying. Mothers who had places advised me the key was persistence and being a pain in the rear. So I rang almost every week for several months and made appointments at which I wailed about having no friends or family in Paris to look after my poor child and would lose my job if she did not go to the crèche (the sad thing was it was almost all true). I delivered this sob-story in increasingly hysterical pidgin French, punctuated with regular sniffs into a damp tissue. After several repeat performances at the Mairie, La Fille was offered a place. There was no explanation of how or why I had succeeded while other parents, whose performance skills were probably equally good and who were probably equally deserving, had not. I did not push my luck by asking.

In London, most state-run nurseries I have found will not take children before they are three years old. Private nurseries I contacted charge between £50 and £60 a day. How can ordinary (ie not wealthy) parents afford this? At that rate full-time nursery care for someone working 222 days a year (252 working days minus 30 days of holiday) comes to around £13,000. One French friend, considering moving to London, refused to believe me until I slapped the glossy brochure for one private nursery under her nose. “What the hell are giving them for that money?”, she wanted to know. “Caviar and silk nappies?”

In Paris, although demand far outstrips supply – only around 25,000 crèche places for an estimated 72,000 under-3s – the capital boasts more than 320 public crèches offering good, safe and affordable child care. The Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe has promised to build more each year and, while it is not happening fast enough for everyone, he is keeping that promise. This is the state behaving like Nanny, but in a positive way.


Anonymous said...

I have a different vision of the "crèche system" :

1/ You should plan to have you child by March - May. Otherwise, the baby will not be there for the August / September review, where most of the creche beds are allocated. Then, too bad for you, you will have to wait until next september and keep in mind that all you can hope is a baby of his age left the creche system ;

2/ The figure of 1 bed for 3 babies might be discussed : It is probably 1 for 1 in the 5th arrondissement, but the director of my crèche ("my crèche" being the crèche I am administratively allowed to apply) pretends for her the ratio is 1 to 20.

3/ The crèche bureaucracy is impressive : we have one crèche next door (just cross the avenue). Unfortunately, the arrondissement changes, so we have to apply to "our crèche", which is more than 1/4 of an hour walk from home...

4/ Of course, those who have a crèche bed only pay around 500 € all included a month, approximatively in Paris (it can be more in outskirt cities). For our nanny, the bill rises up to 800 € a month, with tissue and panties to be provided. Still we are lucky : it is far more expensive in west Paris...

As a conclusion, here is a public service that works in an impressive way : it divides the population in two (very unequal) parts, those who have a crèche bed, pay few, do not have to cope with the red tape and nanny management, and those who pay more, cannot chose their holidays periods (because the nanny imposes them), have to explain why the total salary had not the exact augmentation of the SMIC or to deal with the PMI because they don't understand why only one parent signed the contract.

Parisgirl said...

Thanks for your comments. Just to clarify:

1/In our arrondissement and the three neighbouring ones the Mairies have two yearly reviews to allocate places: one in March, one in September. Applicants are kept on a list and allocated places if children move away. That's how we got ours.

2/In my daughter's crèche and all others I have visited, it is one cot/bed for each baby.

3/You're right. Our nearest crèche was in another arrondissement and it was very frustrating but it's like school catchment areas; a line has to be drawn somewhere.

The answer is more crèche places. It is not a perfect system, but at least there is low cost nursery care in Paris, which is not the case in London.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I meant 1 bed for 3 (or 1 or 20) applicants.

I wonder how long the crèche system will survive the way it exists right now, as it does not appear sustainable : those who fund it do not benefit from it, which means they will stop funding it sooner or later (and vote accordingly).

It would be a pity, but a choice has to be made : either the crèche system becomes (much more) widespread, or it is bound to disappear for lack of support.