Place guarantee to ECEC
For children under the age of 5 years, there is no legal entitlement to a place in an ECEC service and no legal obligation to attend an ECEC service.
In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the number of children attending ECEC services. From 2000 to 2019, the number of children attending ECEC services in Austria rose by around 93 000. In 2000, a total of about 227 000 children were cared for in ECEC services; by 2019, that number had increased to about 320 000. This was mainly due to an increase in crèche and kindergarten attendance by under-4-year-olds.
In September 2009, a compulsory kindergarten year for 5-year-old children was introduced. They are obliged to attend a kindergarten for 20 hours on at least 4 days a week in the year before they start school.
The compulsory ECEC programme is implemented throughout the entire ECEC sector, including home-based provision. Exceptions are made for those children who, for various reasons (illness, severe physical or mental impairment, other medical reasons, remote location, etc.), cannot reasonably be expected to attend a kindergarten.
Exemption from the compulsory kindergarten year requires an application by the parents or guardians and must be made taking into account the child’s right to education, the legitimate interests of the parents or guardians and the impact on the child of attending a childcare institution.
Furthermore, fulfilling a child’s obligation to attend kindergarten by educating the child at home or using childminders requires that the child needs no support in German (the language used in the education system). In addition, the completion of certain educational tasks and the provision of a values-based education must be guaranteed.
Owing to compulsory kindergarten attendance in the year before starting school, there is a legal entitlement for 5-year-old children to a place in an ECEC service. If there is a large influx of children who are obliged to attend kindergarten in the current kindergarten year, the maximum group sizes may be exceeded with the approval of the provincial government in order to guarantee a place for these children.
If admission to an ECEC service of a child who is subject to compulsory kindergarten attendance is refused, the Upper Austrian Child Education and Care Act (Oberösterreichisches Kinderbildungs- und -betreuungsgesetz) (§12a(2)) contains the provision that the provincial Board of Education must, at the request of the parents or guardians, work towards an amicable agreement between the parents or guardians and the legal entity. If, within 1 month, no agreement is reached regarding the admission of the child who is obliged to attend kindergarten, the parents or guardians may submit a written complaint to the Board of Education.
In Salzburg (§16(8)), children who are obliged to attend kindergarten can be only temporarily excluded from an ECEC institution.
For children under the age of 5 years, there is no legal entitlement to a place in an ECEC service and no legal obligation to attend an ECEC service. Parents or guardians of children under 5 years old are free to choose an ECEC service for their child.
Since the 2009/2010 kindergarten year, compulsory half-day kindergarten attendance in the year before school starts has been free of charge throughout Austria. During the final year of ECEC, fees can be charged for services outside the 20 compulsory hours per week.
For the years prior to the compulsory kindergarten year, the costs incurred by parents or guardians for their children to attend crèches and kindergartens vary across provinces, and often also vary according to the parents’ or guardians’ incomes.
Some provinces offer additional free childcare for certain age groups. ECEC services run by the municipal government of Vienna do not require parental contributions for all-day kindergarten or crèche attendance by children aged 0–5 years. In Burgenland, attendance at an ECEC service has been free of charge since 1 November 2019. In Lower Austria and Upper Austria, half-day attendance is free of charge for 4- and 5-year-old children. In Tyrol, half-day attendance is free of charge for 2.5- to 5-year-old children.
Additional costs for all age groups may arise for the provision of meals, materials or excursions. More information on costs and financial support can be found in Chapter 3.1.