Kita: Childcare in Germany
What daycare options do I have for my child?
In Germany, most small children attend a daycare centre or "Kita", where they can find new friends, play and learn outside the home and independent of their parents. You do not have to send children to a daycare centre, but doing so can help your child learn the language and many other useful things. In addition, sending your child to kindergarten will prepare him/her for attending school and provide you with the time to focus on your integration course, education, or vocational training.
What do I need to know?
Kitas or day care centres are places where your child and children of the same age can stay under the supervision of trained care-takers during days. During this time, the children play, do gymnastics, paint, do handicrafts and sing together. They also learn to get along and solve quarrels peacefully. In addition, the children in day care centres are familiarised with nature, nutrition, technology, other people and traffic safety and get acquainted with letters and numbers. The children in these centres get to visit playgrounds, theatres and libraries and celebrate festivals celebrated together. They may play indoor or outdoor in summer or winter. Therefore, your child needs weatherproof clothes which you do not mind becoming dirty.
The word "Kindertagesstätte" or Kita is a collective term for various forms of childcare. In general, there are three distinct types of child day care in Germany: Nursery (Kinderkrippe), kindergarten and After-school Care (Kinderhort).
- Nurseries are for children under the age of three.
- Kindergartens are for children between three and seven years.
- In After-school Care, primary school children are taken care of after school in the afternoon.
The personnel at Kitas are educators (not teachers), i.e. women and men who have gone through pedagogical training to deal with young children. In so-called "parents talks" (Elterngesprächen), parents and educators exchange ideas about the development of the child. There are also so-called "parents evenings" (Elternabend), where essential topics related to Kita and children are discussed together with all parents.
There are different types of Kita in Germany: Some are operated or funded by the municipalities, and some are private. There are also day care centres that pursue a particular pedagogical concept or have a specific focus on a field, such as those which offer early musical education. Furthermore, there are, e.g. so-called "integrative day-care centres" (integrative Kitas) in which children with and without a disability are taken care of together and "bilingual day-care centres" (bilinguale Kitas) in which, not only German but also a second language is spoken. In addition, there are many Kitas whose concept is based on a particular philosophy, such as: "Montessori Kindergartens" or "Walddorf Kitas". Some day care centres are run by churches.
In smaller communities, there are often only one or two Kita available. In larger cities, choosing a day care centre can be more complicated. All Kitas regularly offer so-called "open-door days" in which interested parents can visit the Kita with their children and talk to the educators. It is also worth asking other parents or neighbours for their recommendations. Furthermore, you can inform yourself about various Kita portals such as www.kita.de or www.kindergarten-vergleich.de and search for a fitting Kita. On such websites, you can usually find information about the opening hours, the individual features and also the possible vacancies.
Please note: You do not need to be a member of a church to register your child in a church-run day-care centre. But it may be that the Kita is involved in church life and your child attends church services regularly.
To find a spot for your child in a community day care centre, you need to apply to the Youth Welfare Centre. There you can also acquire further information about the allocation of spots in the day care centres. You can find the Youth Welfare Office responsible for you at jugendaemter.de.
At the Youth Welfare Office, you will receive a list of all Kitas in your area and a registration form which you should fill out and then return to them. In this form, you need to indicate, among other things, which Kita you would prefer for your child and pick some other Kitas as next suitable choices.
Please note: If there are no vacancies in your desired day care centre, the Youth Welfare Office can also allocate you a place in another Kita. However, the other Kita cannot be more than 5 km away from your place of residence or must be reachable within 30 minutes by public transport.
If you want to register your child in a private day-care centre, you usually have to go there and register directly. You can pick up the necessary forms during opening hours, have your child registered on the spot, or put them on the waiting list.
The costs of day care vary from Kita to Kita and district to district. The fees depend on several factors:
- Scope of Care: How many hours will your child spend in day care?
- Family income: how much money do you make - the more you earn, the more you usually have to pay.
- The number of siblings in day care - the more siblings in day care, the less you have to pay for each child.
In principle, a spot in a day-care centre run or sponsored by the municipality is cheaper compared to private day care centres. Keep in mind that the costs say nothing about the quality of care: Just because a day care centre is more expensive does not mean they take better care of your child.
In some federal states, day care centres run or sponsored by the municipality are partially free of charge:
- In Berlin and Hamburg: Kita is free for all children from birth.
- In Rhineland-Palatinate: Kita is free for children over the age of two.
- In Hesse and Lower Saxony: You do not have to pay any fees for children over the age of three.
- Brandenburg and Thuringia: Your child can attend Kita for free during the year before mandatory schooling.
- All other states: Kita is not cost-free.
Important: Even if the Kita is free in your state, you still have to pay a small amount of money every month for food and drink. If you have little or no income, you may receive financial aid. Ask the staff member responsible for you at the Jobcentre or Social Welfare Office, whether you are entitled to such assistance.
If you have low income and cannot afford Kita fees, you can apply for a so-called "day-care voucher" (Kita-Gutschein) at the Youth Welfare Office. After you have found a Kita for your child, apply (in writing) for the reimbursement of costs at your local Youth Welfare Office. You can find the appropriate application form on the homepage of your local Youth Welfare Office, or pick it up directly at their office. You must complete the application form and submit it (per post or personally) to the Youth Welfare Office along with the following documents:
- Proof of your income (e.g. the last three payslips or a certificate from the Jobcentre or the Social Welfare Office),
- A confirmation letter from the Kita you've found and
- Fee assessment from the Kita
The Youth Welfare Office will check your documents and -if you are considered low-income- take over all or part of the Kita cost. You can find the appropriate Youth Welfare Office at jugendaemter.de.
In some districts, there are enough Kitas, but that often is not the case. So where you live determines how difficult finding a Kita will be or when the best time to register your child is. Usually finding suitable day-care is not easy. Therefore, it is crucial to register as early as possible. It is best to register your child for a spot in a Kita immediately after birth.
When registering, you must specify whether your child needs part-time or full-time care. Part-time means that your child spends either only the morning until lunch or the morning, including lunch ("extended morning offer") or only in the afternoon. All-day means that your child is looked after in Kita both in the morning and afternoon.
If you would like to send your child to a private day care centre, it is even more important to register early. In some Kitas, you may need to put your child on the waiting list during pregnancy.
After a Kita gives you the green light, you are usually invited to a preliminary talk. During this introductory interview, you must bring your child's medical records (“Kinder-Untersuchungsheft” or “Gelbes Heft”) and vaccination booklet (Imfpass). As soon as the Kita starts, your child should attend regularly. During the first weeks, the so-called takes place the so-called "settling-in period" (Eingewöhnungszeit). During this period, one parent spends several hours a day with the child in the day care centre, and every day, your child stays in the day care for a little longer. This period continues until the child has settled in and feels safe on its own. The settling-in period usually lasts for several weeks.
Since 2013, children older than 12 months have been legally entitled to a spot in a Kita, i.e. the state or municipalities are obliged to provide a place in a day care centre for every child older than one year. Nevertheless, unfortunately, many parents struggle to find a Kita spot because there are too few Kitas in Germany.
If you could not find a day-care centre for your child, you can sue your municipality in the Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) and claim a spot in a Kita for your child or additional costs for alternative childcare options. If you are unable to work or can only work for a few hours because of the lack of a Kita for your child, you can also claim compensation. To do so, you need a notification letter in which the youth welfare office confirms that despite timely registration, you have not been allocated a childcare option. In principle, you must first appeal the decision. Check the notification letter to find out where and how you can appeal. If your appeal is rejected and a day-care centre is not offered afterwards, you can file a lawsuit before the Administrative Court. The municipality bears the cost of such a lawsuit. However, if you decide to hire a lawyer, you will have to pay the applicable fees. You can seek advice from a Migration Advisory Centre, a Youth Migration Service, in advance. To find a Migration Advisory Centre in your area, check bamf.de. To search for a Youth Migration Service nearby, visit jugendmigrationsdienste.de. Their staff speak several languages.
Please note: Children aged one year and older are entitled to a spot in a day care centre as soon as they no longer live in an Initial Reception Centre.
Children with disabilities or developmental issues can also benefit from day-care. They are looked after together with children without disabilities. There are also special Kita, mainly designed to meet the needs of children with severe disabilities. The Youth Welfare Office can provide you with more advice in this regard. You will find the Youth Welfare Office responsible for you on jugendaemter.de.
If you cannot find a place for your child, or would rather have your child looked after in a small group or separately, you can also hire a childminder (Tagesmutter), a surrogate granny/grandpa (Leih-Oma/Leih-Opa) or an au pair to look after your child. However, childminders, surrogate grannies/grandpas and au pairs are usually not trained in childcare.
A childminder usually looks after several children at the same time at his or her home. As with a Kita place, you can receive financial support for the service provided by a childminder. You can contact your Youth Welfare Office or the local administration and ask them to help you find a suitable place. You will also find the application forms for financial support on the site.
Another option is to find a “surrogate grandmother” or “Leih-Oma”. A “Leih-Oma” is an elderly woman who takes care of a family’s children -usually as a mini-job. A surrogate grandmother is often involved in family life like a real one, and her service is usually more affordable than a childminder. There are, of course, also surrogate grandfathers or “Leih-Opas”. An au pair is a young person from abroad who comes to Germany for a few months to get to know the language and the country. An Au Pair lives with you and helps you in the household, including in child care.
You can search for a childminder, surrogate grandmothers/ grandfathers and au pairs for your children on www.betreut.de, where you can register and search for a suitable option for free.
It is essential that your child visits the kindergarten regularly and not every other day. If your child goes to Kita, you are required to bring your child there regularly and pay the agreed costs. If your child has a spot in Kita, but cannot attend, for instance, since you are moving houses, you need to cancel the allocated place as soon as possible.