Early childhood education and care (ECEC) includes all institutions run by the non-public and public child and youth welfare services which cater for children until they start primary school.
Day-care centres (Kindertageseinrichtungen) provide for either children under the age of three (ISCED 010) or from the age of three up to starting primary school (ISCED 020) separately (in Krippen and Kindergärten, respectively) or operate as one setting for the entire phase of early childhood education and care. In past years the profile of day-care centres has changed considerably. The number of facilities, which offer ECEC exclusively for children from the age of three up to starting school has decreased while more and more centres offer day care for both age groups. One reason for this change in the supply structure is the expansion of day care for children under three years of age agreed by the Federation, Länder and local authorities. The legal right to ECEC in a day-care centre or child-minding service from the age of one entered into force on 1 August 2013. A nationwide needs-oriented supply of day-care places for children is to be established in order to create the basis for fulfilling this right. Statistics show a steady rise of day-care attendance rates since 2006.
For children who have reached compulsory schooling age but whose level of development does not yet allow them to cope with the challenges of primary school, Schulkindergärten, Vorklassen oder Grundschulförderklassen have been established in some Länder. These institutions are classified at ISCED level 020 and fall under the responsibility of the ministries of education.
Under the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), as part of its responsibility for public welfare, the Federation has concurrent legislative competence for child and youth welfare. This also applies to the promotion of children in early childhood education and care (Kinderkrippen, Kindergärten, Horte or Kindertagespflege). The Federation exercised its legislative authority in this field by passing Book Eight of the Social Code (Achtes Buch Sozialgesetzbuch – Kinder- und Jugendhilfe– SGB VIII) in June 1990.
Pursuant to paragraph 22 of the Book Eight of the Social Code, day-care centres for children and child-minding services are called upon to encourage the child's development into a responsible and autonomous member of the community. Furthermore, early childhood education and care is designed to support and supplement the child’s upbringing in the family and to assist the parents in better reconciling employment and child rearing. This duty includes instructing, educating and caring for the child and relates to the child’s social, emotional, physical and mental development. It includes the communication of guiding values and rules. The provision of education and care is to be adjusted to the individual child’s age and developmental stage, linguistic and other capabilities, life situation and interests, and take account of the child’s ethnic origin. In terms of pedagogy and organisation, the range of services offered should be based on the needs of the children and their families.
In this context, the providers of day care must not only ensure the best interests of the child, but also developmentally appropriate and suitable procedures for participation and the possibility of complaints in personal matters. According to the attitude of the pedagogical staff, who place children as individual personalities in the centre of pedagogical action, education cannot take place without participation.
If children with and without disabilities are supported together, the day-care facilities for children and the local youth welfare authority cooperate with other rehabilitation agencies involved (§ 22 paragraph 1 (3) SGB VIII).
The legal framework of the Federation for child and youth welfare is completed, supplemented and extended by the Länder in their own laws.
The principles of education policy in the ECEC sector are laid down in the Joint Framework of the Länder for Early Education in Day-Care Centres (Gemeinsamer Rahmen der Länder für die frühe Bildung in Kindertageseinrichtungen) which was resolved by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) and the Youth Ministers Conference (Jugendministerkonferenz – JMK) in 2004 and updated in March 2022.
Quality development in day-care centres and in child day care is a task for society as a whole. Since 2019, the Federal Government has therefore been supporting the Länder with additional funds for quality development measures in child day care in order to further develop quality nationwide and to make a contribution to creating equal living conditions for growing up in the Federal territory. With the Act on the Further Development of Quality and Participation in Child Day Care (Gesetz zur Weiterentwicklung der Qualität und zur Teilhabe in der Kindertagesbetreuung), the so-called Good Child Day Care Act (Gute-KiTa-Gesetz), the Federal Government provided about Euro 5.5 billion for this purpose until 2022. With the Second Act on the Further Development of Quality and Participation in Child Day Care (Zweites Gesetz zur Weiterentwicklung der Qualität und zur Teilhabe in der Kindertagesbetreuung), the so-called Day-Care Centre Quality Act (KiTa-Qualitätsgesetz), the Federal Government is providing the Länder with a total of an additional Euro 4 billion for 2023 and 2024. In order to ensure good early childhood education, care and upbringing, the Federal Government also supports the states with massive financial aid for the expansion of day-care centres: Since 2008, the Federal Government has provided a total of more than Euro 5.4 billion in five investment programmes, from which more than 750,000 additional places could be created. With the fifth investment programme, the Federal Government recently provided Euro one billion.