How Warsaw doubled its childcare places in two years

5 February 2021

Warsaw has rebuilt its entire childcare system in recent years with the ambition to provide all willing parents with a free nursery place for their child. Although there is still a little way to go to meet this objective, the city has doubled the number of places available in childcare in just two years.

In this podcast, Tomasz Pactwa, Director of Social Services for the city of Warsaw, speaks to Bianca Faragau from Eurocities, to explain that ensuring all families have access to free childcare for their children is a top priority established by the city’s Mayor, Rafał Trzaskowski.

With around 21,000 newborns per year, a figure that is growing year on year, Warsaw currently offers about 15,000 places in nurseries. Because not all parents take up the offer, the city is almost on track to ensure that all parents who want a place for their child, can get one.

Of course, this achievement has been made against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. In fact, Pactwa says that Warsaw only experienced “a short period when the nurseries were closed,” but generally they have been open all the time “with some limits, related to the number of children in one group” and how they mix. However, Warsaw has used this experience as an opportunity to digitise and reorganise its childcare system, while also protecting its children, including by taking automated temperature checks of people entering school premises.

These advances have gone hand-in-hand with new practices, such as better training of staff and improving the knowledge of all childcare givers wherever possible, including by raising awareness on the symptoms of domestic violence.

“The way you speak to children matters,” explains Pactwa, and he says that he is proud of the work being done by the city staff, “we have a really wonderful team here” with more ideas being offered all the time.

In fact, as a result of the enhanced desire of people to help out over the past ten months since the onset of the virus, Pactwa explains, “we had more volunteers than the people we wanted to help”, as well as a lot of support from private enterprises – which doesn’t normally happen.

This spirit of cooperation, whereby “people just came to us and asked: how can I help you”, has “changed a lot of things in the way we are thinking about helping people”, says Pactwa. Just this week, for example, a first social shop was opened, “so that people can buy for a small amount”.  It seems there is a lot of hope that at least something positive can come out of these months of confinement and physical distancing, perhaps a new network of civil society and like-minded people willing to help out one another.

Listen to the podcast below:

On Thursday, 18 February, Eurocities will be hosting the event ‘Growing up and out of poverty: Lessons from cities for the EU Child Guarantee’ to discuss approaches by cities to alleviate child poverty and help children succeed.