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Creating sustainable and participative childcare services

A case study by Dorotea Daniele of DIESIS for the EQUAL conference Social Economy - a Model for Inclusion, Entrepreneurship and Local Development, held in Warsaw on 10-12 May 2006

Family life is changing rapidly. Work flexibility, non-traditional family models (single parents, divorced couples, etc.), increased mobility represent a continuous challenge for modern families. Nurseries and childcare services do not always offer appropriate answers, either because they are lacking in some areas, or because they do not correspond to demand or specific users’ needs.

New high-quality participative services are needed. Through the CREATE project, the structures supporting the creation of childcare services belonging to the ACEPP and Boutiques de Gestion networks have acquired new tools and methodologies to provide better support. These tools concern: financial management, participatory ethics, cohesion of promoting group (workers and volunteers), integration into the local environment, worker professionalisation and collaboration between parents and child-care workers.


Building a new relationship

Despite their similarities, the CREATE partners had never worked together before. They are both part of the social economy and they promote and support the creation of small businesses and neighbourhood services, Boutiques de Gestion with an economic focus and ACEPP with a social one. The partnership itself embodies the twofold structure of neighbourhood services, which have to combine social and economic aims.

ACEPP (Association des Collectifs Enfants Parents Professionnels) is a French national network of approximately 1,000 parents’ associations offering different kinds of services and facilities to children and families. At local level, 30 departmental and regional associations develop local partnerships and support parents’ associations in creating and managing childcare services, in training volunteers and childcare workers and in promoting local develop-ment actions. ACEPP joins other national and European networks in order to discuss and influence family and social policies, local development issues and quality of services.

The Boutiques de Gestion are an independent network of business advisers that supports the creation and development of economic initiatives that can create employment and foster local development. Boutiques de Gestion links more than 400 business advisers all over France.

An evolving context

During the 70s and 80s in France, parents started self-managed associations to provide childcare for their children. Initiated as a reaction to the traditional medical-social approach, these services became more “professional”, though they kept the spirit of social and educational innovation under the “self-management” culture. They inspired new forms of parental participation, child socialisation, the evolution of parental roles and support to social integration. Their quantitative development (35% of nurseries in 2005) and the acknowledgement they gained enabled them to achieve formal recognition (through a decree in August 2000, and a service provision act in 2004). For their capacity to create employment and new services they have always had access to funding for employment and training. Since 2000, the context has been evolving quickly:

  • Territories and administrative responsibilities are being reorganised at different levels;
  • New laws have introduced higher requirements that must be respected;
  • Funding rules have been adapted to the evolution of families’ needs and resources, but have made services more complex to manage;
  • Competition has arisen from conventional businesses ("nursery enterprises"), which do not take into consideration the value of participation and the involvement of users in the whole start-up and management process (criteria that are recognised as promoting flexibility and quality).

All these changes underline a cultural evolution, which requires shifting from informal co-operative practices to formal organisations that are well structured and properly managed. The challenge for managers and workers in associations providing childcare is to take into account changing family needs (job flexibility, flexible working hours, longer commuting distances) and to offer solutions combining quality and sound financial management.

Support needs new methodologies

In order to face these new challenges, ACEPP and the Boutiques de Gestion decided to share resources, methodologies and tools to develop a support scheme for childcare projects. Projects supported should promote local development, respond to families’ needs, have parents and inhabitants as protagonists and be economically viable.

The project developed three interlinked actions:

  • Experimentation of support methodology

Given the limited resources available, only one experiment has been carried out. In the area of Val d’Adour (Gers-Hautes Pyrénées-Pyrénées Atlantiques) the two networks have worked side by side to mobilise groups of people potentially interested in promoting a collective project. The first step was the creation of a territorial network involving local authorities (region, municipalities, counties, etc. according to their different competences), enterprises, banks and other potential funders. The participation of an external mediator (advisory agency) facilitated contact with the business sector, which was particularly relevant in discussing issues concerning family/work reconciliation. Finally, joint action between local politicians, institutions, enterprises, and families succeeded in overcoming diverging interests and creating four new services to meet families’ needs (from nurseries to children’s recreational services).

  • Methodologies to support projects created by groups of people on a network base

A group of experienced advisers coming from the two networks has worked to define the tasks and the profile of advisers to projects created by groups of people on a network base (projets collectifs en réseau). They shared experiences and tools and created a common methodology to support new projects.

  • Training of advisers

Instead of focusing on project promoters, the partners decided to train the advisers (employed and volunteers) of the two networks involved in supporting projects at local level. The training aimed, on the one hand, to update methodologies and techniques to suit the evolving context and, on the other hand, to develop partnerships with local social economy actors. Fifteen trainees took part in 10 training sessions lasting two days each (making a total of 20 days).

During action 3, all the project outputs have been systematised in a toolkit for project advisers. The toolkit includes seven texts, three guides, 18 tool-sheets and two videos concerning:

  • transversal tools analysing the whole support process;
  • tools on the relationship with project promoters;
  • tools focused on specific steps in the support process (information/awareness raising, needs analysis, project preparation, follow-up).

A new job that needs continuous professsionalisation

The exchanges and the common reflection between the two partners led to the identification of a job description and the role of the project adviser, who should have three main skills: local development, technical knowledge (in this case childcare) and capacity to support individuals and groups. The quality of the activities created is strictly linked to the capacity to combine different dimensions – economic, social, educational and civic. The complex job of arriving at a balanced mix of different and sometimes conflicting dimensions calls for specific skills and know-how. In fact, supporting the creation of a childcare service in a given territory means simultaneously supporting the creation of a service for families with diverse needs, the creation of an economic activity and of employment, the development of an area and a social and educational project for children. The experience of CREATE shows that the crucial moment is the start-up phase, when the project is conceived (identification of needs, type of structure to create, choice of number of places, premises, etc.) and concretely started (feasibility study, management choice, local partnership, participation of parents, etc.). Therefore, supporting the start-up of a childcare service requires appropriate skills to:

  • participate in a local needs analysis, carried out in agreement with all the other cultural, economic and social projects aiming at developing the area;
  • create and lead a local partnership involving all the actors concerned: local authorities, economic actors, public administrations, funding organisations, inhabitants and parents;
  • define the financial conditions that will make the project viable, to give a role to parents and to guarantee the quality of services;
  • evaluate the needs in terms of legal requirements, equipment, premises, and professional profiles.

Moreover, project advisers should be able to adapt their action to suit different contexts. If the project idea comes from a group of parents who want to create a nursery for their children, the first step is to involve local partners (politicians, institutions, other local actors) in order to define together how the parents’ initiative could fit into local develop-ment plans.

However if the proposal originates from a local authority, an agreement will be signed to support the start-up, but advisers should pay specific attention to the role played by parents during the whole process (planning, start-up and management). Besides, if the project already has institutional recognition it will be easier to involve all the other local actors. It could also happen that the need for child-care services is identified either by local actors or local authorities, but the project promoter has not been identified. For example, this situation could occur in the context of a global analysis of territorial needs. In this case, it is important to check that the project is well rooted locally and to identify a project promoter able to ensure that all the above-mentioned conditions (role of parents, financial sustainability, role of local actors) are fulfilled.

Birth of a permanent collaboration

The project has generated a permanent synergy between the two partner organisaions. ACEPP invested a lot in the project, as it concerned its core business. It carried out the central co-ordination and all its local branches were actively involved in some of the activities. For the Boutiques de Gestion, on the other hand, the project was less central, despite a significant interest shown by some groups who wanted to re-centre their action on promoting local social development. Nevertheless, synergies have been developed and the effort made to carry out joint local actions was transferred to the national level during the last year. Given the limited resources (the original project was much wider, but, due to the withdrawal of some partners, the French managing authority authorised a smaller project with only two partners), some activities were not widely developed within the project framework. ACEPP and the Boutiques de Gestion therefore decided to continue their collaboration after the end of the project and to conduct further experiments with the tools created. They signed a protocol agreeing a permanent collaboration growing from that established in CREATE, which is to continue the mutual exchanges at all levels and to start new common initiatives at local and national level. The protocol, which will be monitored through regular meetings of the two national associations, is to last for five years.

Externally, ACEPP has, together with a Regional Chamber of Social Economy and a university, co-organised and co-chaired a seminar entitled The evolution of childcare services: the added value of social economy initiatives, held on 25 June 2005.


DP ID: FR-2001-NAT-10817
Contact: Maryse Lejeune
15, rue du Charolais
75 012 PARIS
Tel: + 33 1 44 73 85 20
Fax: + 33 1 44 73 85 39