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New childcare system poses risks for vulnerable parents, experts warn

A new, almost free childcare system may sound ideal, but it also comes with risks for parents. Psychologists from Leiden University and research firm D&B have concluded that the system can cause uncertainty and stress, particularly among vulnerable groups.

The government aims to reimburse 96% of childcare costs for all working parents by 2027. Currently, the reimbursement depends on income, with lower-income parents receiving more support than wealthier families. This new system would make childcare virtually free for all working parents.

Engaging with parents

However, researchers from the Knowledge Center for Psychology and Economic Behavior (KCPEG) and D&B, commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, examined how comprehensible and practical the new system is for parents. They mapped out the steps parents must take, known as the 'citizen journey', and analyzed them using principles from behavioral psychology. They also conducted interviews with parents in focus groups.

Olaf Simonse and Hannah de Boer from KCPEG explain,: 'We opted for personal conversations instead of surveys to gain a clear understanding of the lived experiences, particularly among vulnerable parents. Due to time constraints, we spoke with a small group, but we recommend expanding the study to obtain a more representative picture during further development of the system.'

Citizen journey, outlining the steps for parents in the new childcare system

Increased flexibility and accessibility

The researchers identified improvements compared to the current situation. For instance, childcare providers would handle the reimbursement applications and communicate changes in contracts, alleviating pressure on parents, particularly those with stable jobs and family situations. 'These parents will have to perform fewer tasks, reducing the likelihood of errors,' an expert mentioned in the report.

Parents also appreciate the increased accessibility of childcare. One interviewed parent said: 'If costs decrease, I can send my child to childcare more often, work more, and avoid the hassle of relying on my parents to watch my child.' Furthermore, parents are likely to face fewer financial risks since the chances of reimbursement recovery would be significantly reduced. Olaf Simonse explains: 'In the new system, the reimbursement is directly transferred to the childcare provider instead of the parent.'

Stress among vulnerable groups

But this last aspect could also lead to stress, especially for parents without fixed salaries, who would find it challenging to prove their ongoing employment every three months. Parents who are divorced, have lost their jobs, or lack digital skills also belong to vulnerable groups. 'You are placing the burden of proof on parents who are unable to bear it,' summarizes an expert in the study.

Moreover, the new application process involves multiple steps with unclear objectives. 'You have to start your own administrative office; the citizen journey is like a game of snakes and ladders,' remarks a parent. In addition, parents experience fear and uncertainty about the availability of sufficient childcare places in the future and concerns about potential cost increases. This becomes an added stressor, particularly for parents with lower incomes.


To mitigate the risks, the researchers advise the ministry to provide sufficient support for parents who may find the system confusing. They also recommend clear communication regarding parents' expectations and detailed explanations of the procedures. Hannah de Boer: 'The employment requirement, which mandates that parents must prove their employment every three months, creates significant administrative burdens and stress for a considerable number of people.'

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