This chapter examines the extent to which disadvantaged children are able to access high quality early childhood education and care in France. France is a leader in the ECEC arena, but while it has achieved universal preschool provision for children age three and up in high-quality école maternelles, it faces challenges in the supply of care for children under the age of three. There is a shortfall of places and participation is strongly graded by social class: children of non-working, low income, or low educated parents are less likely to participate and less likely to attend a crèche (childcare centre). The supply concerns have led to recent policy efforts to expand the number of places available, even if this means potentially reducing quality (by for example permitting lower staff qualifications and increased child/staff ratios).
Since the 1970s, there have been intensive efforts by successive French governments to promote social policies designed to enable mothers to juggle both family responsibilities and full-time employment. In particular, at the beginning of the 1980s, as the Socialists came into power, there was a marked increase in the level of funds allocated for the construction of crèches by both the local authorities and the Caisse Nationale des Allocations Familiales (CNAF). This phenomenon coincided with the entry of many mothers of young children into the paid labour force. Today, along with the Nordic countries, France leads the European Union in the provision of childcare and benefits aimed at reducing childcare costs for families. These developments emerged along with the progressive implementation of parental leave policies. This chapter discusses the rationales that have underpinned the periodic changes in the politics of parental leave in France. It discusses the primary economic and social factors that influenced the decisions made by the successive governments. Finally, the chapter addresses the respective roles played by each social partner during the decision-making processes. The first part of the chapter offers a review of the institutions and social actors involved in the decision-making processes in the field of parental leave policies. The second part explores the issues outlined above.
This chapter outlines the historical background to the state-family relationship in France to provide an understanding of the place of social care in the French welfare state. It then explores the extent to which the rights of families to provision for care are written into labour law, and the tax and social security systems. The historical background explains why childcare has been a major issue on the political agenda in France. France also provides a good example of the development of rights for parents to give care. Gender equity is being promoted, not only within the family but also in employment and working time policies.