The Corona-related restrictions in education have left their mark on many children and increased the social division. In the most recent quarterly report of the Corona-KiTa study, scientists from the German Youth Institute (DJI) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) have shown how serious the effects are even in infancy.

Since September 2020, the researchers have been investigating the consequences of the pandemic for child day care – from both a medical-epidemiological and a social-scientific point of view. Since then, 3,000 day-care center managers have been asked about their experiences at regular intervals. The finding: Despite great efforts, day-care centers have been less and less successful in fulfilling their core educational tasks during the course of the pandemic.

“According to the daycare center managers surveyed, the need for language, motor and social-emotional support has increased continuously over the course of the pandemic,” says Bernhard Kalicki, head of the children and childcare department at the DJI and member of the project management of the Corona daycare center study . While in October 2020 only 35 percent of the day-care center managers saw an increase in children with special needs in language development, in the period from April to June 2021 it was already 43 percent and in early summer 2021 already more than half (53 percent).

There was a similarly high increase in motor development deficits. When it came to socio-emotional support, in early summer 2021 almost two-thirds (62 percent) of the day-care center managers stated that more or many more children needed support than before the pandemic.

Day-care centers with a higher proportion of girls and boys from a weak socio-economic background performed particularly poorly. Here, 60 to 70 percent of all day care center managers registered an increased need for support. In facilities with a lower proportion of socially disadvantaged children, complaints were only made by 35 to 55 percent of the managers. “The systemic differences are clear. We have to take this finding very seriously,” says Kalicki.

“Day care centers have an educational function for the children. There they learn actively and in interaction with other children. The whole day care center is a place of exercise and learning,” says the DJI expert. “Disadvantaged children in particular, who get little stimulation at home, benefit from this.” During the pandemic, these freedoms and opportunities for interaction were then massively limited by access restrictions, the isolation of groups and fixed staff assignments.

In addition, children from socially disadvantaged areas were more affected by closures and reduced care times than the average, according to Kalicki. “This is obviously due to the fact that the number of infections was higher in this social class and groups or entire facilities therefore had to be closed more frequently.” The reduced care time then had a direct impact on the educational support needs.

“The social gap has widened even further during the pandemic. We can clearly prove that with our data,” says Kalicki. In addition, the restrictions on movement and contact options in the daycare center caused by the pandemic had a generally negative effect on the quality of interactions between educators and children, between the children and between daycare and family, according to the study.

So far, the researchers have looked at the period from spring 2020 to spring 2021, more recent figures are not expected until autumn. But even the effects observed in this one year are worrying for the child and youth experts. “For a three-year-old child, a year is a third of their lifetime. Important steps in language acquisition and socio-emotional development take place in this phase: self-regulation, impulse control, stress regulation, behavioral control,” says Kalicki. Children learned all this from other children in a social context.

“If these areas of experience are lost and individual support is also neglected due to the pandemic, the children fall behind.” The consequences of this for the further development of the children must now be closely monitored – after all, the initial skills that children take from daycare to come to school, basis for further learning at school. “We may see more deferrals.”

For the already overburdened day care centers, the remaining of a relevant number of children who are actually of school age in the system would be an additional burden. In any case, the Corona day-care center study revealed growing dissatisfaction among day-care center staff.

This was shown in a second module of the study, with which day care centers and day care workers provide weekly information on the number of infections and quarantine-related closures. Despite the high number of infections, the day-care centers have largely been kept open since the beginning of the Omicron wave. From December 2021 to March 2022, the nationwide occupancy rate was 84 percent.

The values ​​for personnel deployment remained stable – albeit at a low level. “This speaks for a high level of commitment in the daycare centers and a routine handling of the challenges of the pandemic,” says Susanne Kuger, project manager of the Corona daycare center study at the DJI. “However, there is a clear deterioration in the mood: the resentment reached an unprecedented high.”

“The basic staffing was already critical before the pandemic, but we reached the limit during the crisis,” says her colleague Kalicki. It is true that many educators are now being trained. “But there is also simply too much wastage, because trained staff drop out. The profession must be made more attractive through better working conditions and better pay.”

The Youth and Family Ministers’ Conference took a first small step last week. In the “Berlin Declaration” on the living conditions of children and young people in times of crisis, she campaigned for the continuation of the Good Day Care Center Act, which was previously limited to three years, and the continuation of the federal language day care center program.

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