Released today in bookstores, the book “The price of the cradle, what the privatization of crèches does to children” (Editions du Seuil), written by Daphné Gastaldi and Mathieu Périsse, gives rise to the debate: can we trade crèches ? We asked Mathieu Périsse about the different issues raised by this investigative book.
TipsForWomens: What pushed you to write this book?
Mathieu Périsse: The trigger was the death of a little girl in a crèche in Lyon and I think that this tragedy led to everything, and in particular the Igas report, the testimonies of parents and professionals… Initially, the independent Médiacités site for which I work (among others) had the idea of creating a file on this theme. We launched a call for testimonies and quickly realized that they were particularly aimed at private daycare centers. After writing several articles we said to ourselves that we had “scratched” the surface and that there was room to dig deeper. We then investigated for 1 year to write the book.
What did you want to highlight through the book?
We quickly wanted to answer a question: are daycare centers a business like any other? If the cases of physical violence were palpable, we also felt economic violence, perhaps less visible but just as problematic. This will result in a degraded daily life due to very present profitability: quotas for food, supplies, but also personnel management. The link between mistreatment and working conditions seemed obvious to us. Some professionals told us ‘I am becoming abusive in spite of myself’. We are not talking about physical abuse here but for example changing a diaper in a hurry because other children are waiting and/or discussing at the same time with a colleague to resolve a problem. We were able to get our hands on documents where daycare directors are strongly encouraged to respect meal quotas (reduce the gap between the number of meals and the number of children) because this corresponds to 10% of their annual bonus. . Obviously, this is not explicitly stated but it raises questions about the economic objectives of crèche companies… Sometimes we realize that there is an organized ‘shortage’: managers promise 20 employees to run the crèche and in reality there are only 18 to make more margin.
What shocked you the most about your investigation?
In a positive way, the strength of nursery professionals. Moreover, the book does not at all aim to call into question the work of these professionals who often carry the structures at arm’s length. Without them, there would no longer be an early childhood sector. We were amazed by their strength. I also remember a former daycare director who agreed to testify and who told us that by dint of filling tables with figures and rates of return, she ended up seeing dollars above the babies’ heads… It’s a strong image. I was also shocked by a former regional manager who told us about what he did when he worked in one of the big groups. He was not necessarily critical of the system and he threw out this strikingly cynical sentence: “human matter cannot be optimized as well as a car part”. When we hear this speech we have the answer to our initial question: yes, early childhood has become a business like any other. Managers have sometimes worked for different sectors and do not know the needs and constraints of early childhood professionals.
You mention the role of the CAF in the deregulation of the sector, how does this translate?
The CAF has put in place different levels of subsidy (PSU) which takes into account in particular the occupancy rate of nurseries. It’s a bit like someone saying “thank you for not running on empty”. The more children you have to supervise, the higher the amount of the subsidy with all the excesses that this can cause…
In your opinion, what measures need to be put in place urgently?
Both businesses and public responsibility are being called into question. If we are here today it is also because of the choices of different governments and public policies. These private daycare centers cannot survive without public money. I think that today we are at a crossroads… When I see that the Government has created a public early childhood service, but it is only public in name since it will integrate the private sector… The Government has announced 200 million euros per year to upgrade the early childhood sector, that’s good but we have to see how this money will be used. Moreover, it almost makes you smile when a few days after the publication of the Igas report, the Government announces the creation of 200,000 additional nursery places. Stop! We must stop with quantitative logic. This is absurd and completely beside the point. Moreover, the CNAF and State convention ultimately budgeted for 35,000 additional places, proof that it is completely impossible to create 200,000 places under current conditions. We must listen to professionals and ask ourselves whether we should keep the private sector in this type of public service.
What message would you like to send to parents?
We are not saying that all daycare centers are dysfunctional because the majority are running relatively well. The key positive indicator is the nursery team. When you have a united and stable staff in front of you, it’s a good sign. A good atmosphere is essential and can reassure parents. On the other hand, the situation can quickly deteriorate if there is a lot of staff turnover. It is a danger for professionals but also for children. I think parents need to reclaim crèches. Vigilance must be collective to regain confidence. Professionals and parents can also come together when a situation is not acceptable.