Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Childcare: Neccesity or Luxury?

If you ask most parents, childcare is a necessity - like milk and bread. However, in Bolivia the current childcare system is considered by many to be unaffordable – turning this necessity into a luxury only for those who can afford it.

 Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America.  It faces many socio-economic issues, ranging from malnutrition - with a quarter of the population eating less than the minimum recommended daily calorie intake - inequalities in education and healthcare, child labour – with 28% of Bolivian children aged 5-15 working to support their families[1] - and unaffordable childcare that forces parents to leave their children at home alone while they work[2]. These issues affect everyone, however it is the poorest families and communities that are the most vulnerable. 

A typical day-care centre in Bolivia can cost anywhere from 700 to 1,000 Bolivianos a month (£70 - £100). This buys you four hours of childcare but does not include food. However, there are many organisations trying to help families who cannot afford the steep childcare fees.  Among the largest is Aldeas Infantiles SOS,that runs affordable nurseries within La Paz and throughout Bolivia. Their goal is to reach some of the most vulnerable children and support them and their parents to lead independent lives. These nurseries provide a loving environment in which children can grow up healthy and protected, however there are always more children than there are places.

One of the many reasons that parents need to leave their children in daycare is so that they can rejoin the work force and provide for their families. What these families want for their young children is a secure and healthy environment where they can learn and play. However, those who are from a low income background or single parent families are faced with the decision of whether they can afford both childcare and the basic commodities, such as food and rent. 

Those families that cannot afford childcare are left with very few options.  In some cases the decision is made for one parent to leave the workforce to look after their children whilst the other provides the sole wage with which to support the family. Those in a single parent family cannot give up their job and have to resort to leaving their children home alone, leaving them vulnerable to the dangers of accidents, abuse and malnutrition.[3] Whilst it is easy to condemn the practice of leaving children home alone, many are left with no choice as they much earn to eat.  

With the cost of childcare disproportionately high compared to the average salary, the issue of high daycare costs is causing the same concerns for parents around the world, not just in Bolivia. In the UK the average salary before tax is £26,500[4]. Subtract from this the average cost for a year of full-time nursery care for a child under the age, which is £11,000[5], and you are left with very little to live on.  However, the UK does have tax credits to help low income families to pay for childcare. Without these tax credits, UK families would be in the same situation as Bolivians with many children being left at home whilst their parents work to support their families.

An Affordable Community Nursery

Built in 2004, the Valley of the Moon Children's Centre in the macro-district of Mallasa is a nursery which aims to provide affordable community-based childcare for all. It was the dream of the local Mothers’ Club for families within the community to be able to access childcare services that would respect their cultural background instead of just subscribing to Western methodology. There are currently 87 children aged 6 months to 4 years whose parents pay a monthly fee of 60 Bolivianos (£6) for them to attend the nursery which runs from 8am to 4pm and provides breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day.  The centre enables local parents, especially mothers, to look for employment outside the home secure in the knowledge that their children are being looked after in a safe and loving environment.

Mallasa has succeeded in its goal of a community-based nursery; local women are employed as ‘Tias’ or educators and decisions affecting the centre are made by the local mothers’ club. With 87 children and their families already benefiting from the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre, the long waiting list hints at both the success and the ever-growing need within the community.

Should this be the model for future affordable nurseries?

Written by Harriet Schofield
Edited by Naomi Martin and Sarah Cassidy

[1] Aldeas SOS website
[2] Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre website
[3] Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre website
[4] Office for National Statistics
[5] Holiday Childcare Costs Survey 2013


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