The price adjustment has subsided

"The children's ability to concentrate has decreased"

Thirty years ago, Claudia Volken founded the day care center “Ringelreija” in Brig. An interview about today's children, the benefits of day-care centers for society and the demands of parents.

Claudia Volken, in 1987 you founded the “Ringelreija” in Brig, the first day-care center in Upper Valais. On the 30th birthday, does the joy of what you have achieved predominate or the realization that there is still a lot to do?
Clearly the joy. The company is well positioned and continues to grow. We can look forward to it. With the second part of your question, you are addressing the acceptance of daycare centers in society. Here too, on my 30th birthday, there is definitely cause for joy when you consider how the support of daycare centers in politics and the population has improved since the 1980s. The most important thing for me about the anniversary is that the children and parents are satisfied with us.

Let's look back at the beginnings of the «Ringelreija». How did you come to open a daycare center in Brig at the end of the 1980s?
I was just about to finish my training as a kindergarten teacher. As I said, there was no day-care center in Upper Valais. My teachers therefore encouraged me to launch such an offer in Upper Valais as well. I liked the idea very much, after all, I always wanted to work as a toddler educator, that was my dream job. One year after completing my training, I then put the idea into practice and founded the first daycare center in the region in the old downstairs apartment of the Brig primary school.

How was this offer received back then?
Actually very good, I have to say. The municipality supported me from the start by making the apartment available to me. I organized several information evenings that were well attended. Of course, I looked after far fewer children then than today. Five to ten children came to the day care center, I was the only carer. After about a year and a half, the "Ringelreija" had grown so much that I had to ask the municipality for further support. Because the city council could not support a private person, the sponsoring association was founded, which still exists today. There was hardly any criticism at the time. That was probably because the daycare centers were not yet seen as a political issue. Those who were interested came; those who had no need ignored us.

Today 450 children per week are looked after in the "Ringelreija".
Yes it is. We offer 130 childcare places with eight different offers. The number of children in care is actually the biggest change I have seen in the last 30 years. The fact that many women are working more and more part-time has of course contributed significantly to the fact that the need for childcare places has increased so much. In the beginning, the offer was mainly used by foreign women who were dependent on it because they had to go to work. Today it looks different.

And how?
Today our offer is used by women and families from all walks of life. In the last five to ten years there has been a particularly strong increase in demand from families in which both parents have a good education. The women from such families are taking increasingly less time to give birth to their children. The need for our care offers is correspondingly high. What has also changed a lot is the behavior of men.

In what way?
In the past, children were almost exclusively brought to us by women. Today we have almost as much to do with fathers as we do with mothers. I think that's a very positive development.

Have the children changed too?
Children are still children. However, there are already changes. For example, it has become more difficult to get a child excited about something over a long period of time. The children's ability to concentrate has decreased, I think. The little ones' fine motor skills were also better in the past. On the other hand, I experience today's children as more open-minded, sociable and courageous than in the past, and also as more diverse. That is definitely a positive thing.

What do you think, in which direction will daycare centers develop over the next ten years? Does the current offer meet the needs or do you have to expand it further?
The “Ringelreija” now has three locations, where 450 children between three months and twelve years of age are cared for. We have 47 employees in 32 full-time positions. I think that for the time being we can cover the needs of the population with this. The creation of ten more childcare places for 30 children would be conceivable. The need for lunch is likely to increase a little too, which is mainly due to the children starting school at the age of four. On the other hand, this means that we need fewer places in the playgroups. In fact, the demand remains more or less stable, only the demands on the supply change a little.

So you don't have a long waiting list, as is known from daycare centers in cities?
The crib is fully booked for the coming year, there are still a few places left in the baby group. Still, we don't have a long waiting list. This is not least due to the fact that childcare options have also been expanded in other municipalities in Upper Valais in recent years.

"Prices are rising everywhere, including us"

The opening of the daycare center in Bitsch, for example, took the pressure off those in Naters, which in turn took the pressure off us. If the childcare offer had not been expanded throughout Upper Valais, the situation would certainly be different.

Which challenges do you have to struggle with most in everyday work?
We have 130 places and look after 450 children per week. The biggest challenge for us is to divide these places so that they meet the needs of the parents. That means, maybe there are still places available on Wednesday, but the family needs one on Thursday because the woman goes to work on that day. Organizing the offer in such a way that it meets the needs of the customer is the most difficult thing, after all, the daycare center cannot dictate when someone has to go to work.

The customers are the parents. How demanding are they when it comes to what the daycare center offers?
Of course, demands are placed on us when it comes to looking after and caring for the children. It is particularly important to parents that their child feels comfortable with us. This is of course legitimate, after all, parents pay between 35 and 100 francs a day for our service, depending on their income. For us, this means that we involve the parents to a great extent and, for example, also hold discussions with parents. Parents' demands have certainly increased, but that's fine. In all other areas, too, we are placing ever higher demands on the services we provide.

What is most important to you in your daily work?
That we respond to the needs of children.

What does that mean in concrete terms?
It starts with the acclimatization of the child. It is not the case that when a new child comes to us, it is simply handed over to us and then we say: "Do it!" That's not how it works. The child is slowly introduced to the day care center. That means, first of all there is a conversation with the management and the group leader. Then the stay in the day-care center is gradually expanded. This phase lasts three weeks for small children. The central point is that especially the very young children always have to deal with the same caregiver. The idea behind this is that the parents build trust, because then the children also trust us. In addition, this approach also alleviates any separation pain for parents and children. On the other hand, this familiarization phase gives us the opportunity to get to know the child and their needs, because as I said, responding to these is particularly important to us.

Their commitment to the children is very great, but the salaries in the daycare centers are not, they say. One also hears time and again that daycare centers like to fall back on “cheap” interns who, however, have no prospect of an apprenticeship. Is that so?
This problem actually exists. The attraction that our profession exerts on young women is still very high. Accordingly, many apply for an apprenticeship position. We believe that we only hire as many interns as we can offer an apprenticeship afterwards. On the other hand, it is of course also the case that we have to rely on interns to a certain extent. If we didn't do that and only use trained teachers, the costs would explode. Nevertheless, we have to make sure that our work is also valued through the wages. Just because there is a great deal of interest in the job, there cannot be a drop in wages.

Keyword costs, a daycare place is already not cheap today. Will external childcare be even more expensive in the future?
Prices are rising everywhere, including us. We therefore adjust prices every three years. Considerations as to how we can run our operations cost-effectively are part of everyday business. I have to say, however, that the tariffs in Upper Valais are still in the good midfield in a nationwide comparison.

Despite the parental contributions, you are dependent on funds from the canton and the municipality. In your opinion, does a daycare center pay off for society?
In any case, and twice. Take those people who pay the top rate. They have to because they earn well. Accordingly, they also pay a lot of taxes. But even with the low tariffs, society benefits from daycare centers. Often the low tariffs are paid by people who would be dependent on welfare if the daycare did not exist. The day care center enables them to go to work and free themselves from social assistance. In both cases, the question certainly does not arise whether a day-care center is profitable for society.

Martin Meul