Where Do Rich Countries Stand on Childcare?

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In the 20 years preceding the COVID-19 crisis, average spending on services for families – including childcare – in high-income countries, saw notable increases relative to falls in cash benefit spending. Nevertheless, even before COVID-19, some of the world’s richest countries were failing to offer comprehensive childcare solutions to all families. In some instances, this reflected their policy priorities rather than available resources. The COVID-19 pandemic also challenged children’s education, care and well-being as parents struggled to balance their responsibilities for childcare and employment, with a disproportionate burden placed on women. In the context of lockdown and school closures, childcare was one of the worst affected family services and had a significant knock-on effect.

UNICEF has previously called for a set of four key family-friendly policies: paid parental leave, breastfeeding support, accessible quality childcare and child benefits (UNICEF, n.d.; Gromada et al., 2020). This report shows how governments can help parents through paid parental leave, followed by affordable and high-quality childcare. Using the most recent comparable data, it assesses the parental leave and childcare policies in the 41 high-income countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU).1 For simplicity, we call them the ‘rich countries’.

Childcare policies play a key role in development for children and work-life balance for adults. The report concludes with nine recommendations for how policies can be improved to provide comprehensive solutions to all families.

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