Early childhood services in Italy present some issues that need to be addressed:
- lack of services compared to the high demand in the Italian market (nowadays, only the 11.4% of children find a place in the childcare day nurseries)
- Non-standardized quality of services
- Families limited budget
Moreover, in a country where the volume of female workforce is growing and the traditional in-house methods of family childcare services are out-of-date, the need to offer a better standard both in term of quality and affordable prices has finally emerged.
The Pan Project has its core into the social cooperatives sector. The Italian legislation had already recognised this form of social entities back in 1991 (act 381/91). Social co-operatives are defined as follows:
- The objective is the general benefit of the community and the social integration of citizens
- Type A co-operatives provide health, social or educational services
- Type B co-operatives integrate disadvantaged people into the labour market. The categories they tend to include, but not limited to, are people with physical and mental disability, drug and alcohol addiction, developmental disorders and troubles with the law. It does not include other factors of disadvantage such as race, sexual orientation or abuse
- Various categories of stakeholder may become members, including paid employees, beneficiaries, volunteers (up to 50% of members), financial investors and public institutions. In type B co-operatives, at least 30% of the members must be from disadvantaged target groups
- A co-operative has legal personality and limited liability
- The voting system is one person one vote
- No more than 80% of profits can be shared. Interest is limited to the bond rate and in the event of closure the capital distribution is given to charitable organisations.
At the present time, there are over 7,300 social cooperatives in Italy, of which 59% provide social services including also the services and provision for children. A national law regulates the Italian scenario for child care services, the management, however, is led by the committee of each region. As a result, a non-standardized day nursery system is the cause of different modus operandi from an Italian region to another.
Aims and objectives
The Pan Project was born in 2004 with the objective to generate within three years at least 5000 new places for kids in the day nursery schools. The priority was given to those areas in the country where this type of facility was absent. Pan has successfully created and still supervising the management of a quality brand for the needs of children and families plus it also made the link between asked price and quality of the services provided. PAN helps families with tangible efforts focused on making the access to early childhood cervices less expensive. Finally, PAN is trying to develop the services and provision for children more into a social enterprise, a sort of entrepreneurial entity in cohesion with the ‘public’ purpose of these services.
PAN is an initiative of CGM, the most important association of social cooperatives in the country (it groups more than 1,200 cooperatives), and its non-profit purpose is to promote community wellbeing by planning and advertising quality services at low prices.
FIS (Federation of Social Enterprises of Compagnia delle Opere) and Consortium DROM of LegaCoop are also participating in the project. FIS, CGM and LegaCoop represent over 70% of social enterprises in Italy, with 130,000 workers and almost 3 billion Euros turnover. The other founding partner of PAN is Intesa San Paolo, one of the main European banking institutes, which pays special attention at the requirements and projects promoted by social enterprises.
Local governments responsible for the administration of childcare services and families or private/public companies interested on creating niche market groups also play an important role as liaison advisers and partners.
At the present time PAN is the biggest Italian network for early childhood services and it is the best solution for:
- Social entrepreneurs that aim to further develop childcare services
- Families that find in the PAN day care centres a superior quality service
PAN offers project and start-up assistance to organisations which express the interest in establishing new types of services for children in the form of social enterprises. It also offers financial tools designed to support the company’s investment decisions to those focusing in non-profit business activities.
A guaranteed quality trademark is given to all PAN’s partnership social enterprises with quality check tools, including ‘Linee Guida’ (Guidelines), that form the milestone of cultural education of services. Linee Guida were elaborated during the Scientific Committee competition and they refer to advanced pedagogical and educational researches in the field of educational services for the early childhood. Furthermore, the ‘Manuale di Valutazione’ (User’s Evaluation Manual) is also included; it is divided into 4 subcategories (Strategy, Product/Services, Human Resources, External/Internal Procedures), each of them with numerous items and specific scores.
The decision for a user’s evaluation manual instead of quality one was taken mainly because every structure needs to be oriented in its own way of quality decision-making. Additionally, parents and public administrations have the opportunity to evaluate the satisfaction of the service compared to other standards with easy-to-read questionnaires, hence a good starting point for the making of detailed feedback reports.
A security check is mandatory before obtaining the quality label and joining the PAN Consortium. Afterwards, inspectors organize controls without warning in every department to ensure that all quality requirements are met. These inspections are made by experts who have been trained from members of the PAN scientific committee. PAN also provides to its partners with an educational opportunity, a mutual communication plan, many events such the ‘National Child Day’, conferences and seminars which involve its members but also the region representatives and public bodies all together.
In collaboration with Intesa San Paolo, PAN is capable to add financial tools useful to families in the form of extended loans structured specifically to facilitate the payment of the service in time.
Legal and organisational structure
The Scientific and Support Committees are PAN’s two vital bodies for achieving the targets set. The two committees work side by side with the Assembly, Steering Committee and the Board of statutory auditors:
- The Scientific Committee is formed by experts coming from universities and research centres and its task is to supervise all activities concerning the ‘evaluation manual’, vocational training proposals for surveyors in the field of preparatory auditing for day nursery schools and training proposals for coordinators and infant school teachers.
- On the other hand, the Support Committee manages network secretariat activities, training courses, communications and proposals for the Assembly and Steering Committee.
The operations manager is the key figure for the Consortium performance and to ensure financial stability to all network secretariats. Legally, PAN has been formed as a Consortium for enterprises where its associates are the four charter members: CGM, Drom, FIS and Intesa San Paolo.
As a final point, PAN’s day nursery schools have the legal form of social cooperatives.
Banca Intesa contributes to the PAN Project by making available funding up to 100,000 Euros with optimum financial conditions and without general obligation bonds payments. Beneficiaries can be either selected young entrepreneurs supported by social networks for companies, or operating social enterprises that want to expand or re-structure following PAN’s quality guidelines (from 10,000 up to a maximum of 50,000 Euros). Moreover, there are special financial advantages for those families that enrol their kids to a PAN’s child care day centre, such as: monthly payment reduction and funding opportunities for covering the day centre costs in 4 years affordable monthly rates instead of payments within 2/3 years (from 2,000 € up to a max of 18,000 €). PAN Child care schools are functioning as social enterprises on the public market (i.e. partnerships with Town Halls for the services management) and private market (i.e. services provided directly to families).
- The wide range of services provided (financial management consulting services; vocational trainings; financial tools; annual communication plan)
- Innovation: establishing the collaboration between different scenarios has been the drawing power for PAN development. Diversity exchange becomes the PAN motto in every aspects of its structure (cultural exchange inside the Support and Scientific Committees and also during internal training courses with experts; the participation of inspectors with different backgrounds and nationalities; teamwork between social enterprises belonging to various organisations)
- The quality check pattern. Organisations with PAN trademark must follow several inspections which guarantee the good standard of the service and the good balance between price and quality. The requirements needed concern the management for the education and the administration of the services provided (trainings for teachers, good standard living environments, good outdoor-indoor space optimisation and high quality food supply).
- PAN Early Childhood services answer to the needs of kids and their families, providing high-quality local service, innovative solutions as a result of a constant flexible approach (organisational, structural and economical) and focused to an active user participation.
- The frequent liaison with public institutions at national and local level contributes to share the ‘public’ purpose in the child care services. It also facilitates the dialogue about day nursery services policies and it produces joined projects for the needs of each regions. PAN presents itself to the local administrations as a promoter for maximising early childhood socio-educational services and, at the same time, for participating actively to the creation of employment opportunities where entrepreneurial and technical skills along with social responsibility and respect for the rules are all pre-requisites.
Results and perspectives
In just 4 years, PAN has successfully built 140 new infant schools with 4,311 available places and 943 new jobs. Nowadays there are in Italy 370 day nursery centres which take care of about 10,600 children and employ more than 2,550 people.
The employment creation related to child care schools, directly (for infant school teachers) and indirectly (for mothers that can return to their work status making use of the day nursery service), generates income and larger amounts of tax rates and capital levies compared to schools maintenance costs that public administrations usually incur. Additionally, the consistent capitalisation of the workforce required for the growth in market supply gives back the advantages to provide new jobs (especially for women), to compete with the local economic developments and to value human capital.
In the following years PAN main goal will be to expand the services network (above all in southern Italy) and to develop new financial devices to sustain the growth of social enterprises. Moreover, PAN is in the process of updating its study and research activities (the ‘How to Improve Public Policies in the Child Care Services Sector’ Project is in the final stage of completion) and the Pan Manual main evaluation techniques will be revised.