Childcare must be provided by cities as schools prepare to re-open, says government

Summary

Childcare is a significant hurdle in re-starting the economy, say employers and schools, who until now have been acting as daycares

Who’s watching the kids?

Schools and local authorities in Flanders have been told to work together to find a solution for emergency childcare as the coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted. The Flemish government announced on Tuesday that it would provide the resources to allow local authorities to take over this role from schools, which will return to classroom teaching on 18 May.

Schools have been closed during the lockdown but had to provide childcare for parents in essential jobs who could not work from home. With plans to re-open schools on 18 May, teachers say they cannot continue to provide this emergency childcare.

This problem is exacerbated by the phased re-opening of schools. This means some pupils will have to remain at home, although many parents outside of the non-essential sectors returned to work this week. This has already increased the demand for childcare.

At the same time, schools have to adapt to social distancing rules and continue to provide some lessons online. “Teaching should take precedence for the next month,” said Lieven Boeve, head of Catholic Education Flanders, in De Standaard today. “Childcare cannot remain a priority.”

The possibilities differ from municipality to municipality, and are not endless

- Minister Bart Somers

Yet Voka, Flanders’s chamber of commerce says this childcare as essential if the economy is to get back on its feet. “If we really want to get people back to work, it must be possible to go back to work,” said Hans Maertens, Voka’s managing director.

He sees local authorities as a possible solution. “They have experience with childcare and so can help organise it,” he said, citing both their personnel and premises as useful resources.

The government of Flanders has agreed, announcing this afternoon that it wants schools and local authorities to put their heads together on the issue. “The possibilities differ from municipality to municipality, and are not endless,” said internal affairs minister Bart Somers (Open VLD). “But local authorities can support their educational partners and, where possible, look for solutions.”

The Flemish government will support the local authorities with financial resources, and a clear framework of safety standards. However, it warns that if workable solutions are not found, then re-opening of individual schools may have to be scaled back.

Photo ©Virginie Lefour/BELGA