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64. Primano

64.1. Short description

Primano is a pre-school education programme targeting disadvantaged children and their families in selected districts. It started in 2007 with a home-visit programme. Bern was the first commune to implement a Dutch programme named Opstapje. The idea of a pre-school programme arose as school nurses noticed that some children had difficulties in the very first year of school. In addition, these children showed speech difficulties, and social interaction and psychomotor problems that could be linked with the family structure and social environment. The Director of the Health, Education and Welfare2 Department was encouraging multidisciplinary work and tasked the health unit to implement a home-visit programme. The result is a pilot project in the stream of social investment, which includes, besides home visits, educations modules for child-care facilities, playgroups, and a coordination structure inside the districts. The programme aims to build a chain of support that accompanies children until kindergarten. The following steps constitute the chain.

Primano chain

Primano was initially a 5-year pilot project (2007-12). An evaluation has been conducted and the project has now been adapted and extended as a regular offer by the city. The pilot project has been financed by private foundations. As a regular offer, the programme will be financed by the city from 2013. We will now detail the three elements of primano: home visits, educative modules and playgroups, and the district coordination office. Our description is mostly based on interviews and on documents such as the “pre-school education concept primano – regular offer from 2013”3.

64.2. Internal organisation and modes of working

Part 1: Home visits.

Schritt:weise4 is the result of the implementation in Bern of the Dutch programme Opstapje. The association a:primo bought a licence from the Netherlands Youth Institute. The licence includes the right to implement the concept as well as working papers and user instructions. a:primo has a contract with the city of Bern and is in charge of the coordination, the training of personal and the production of information and play material. Professionals are involved as coordinators and non-professionals are hired for home visits. Workers in charge of home visits are from the neighbourhood and have no schooling in pedagogy. Instead, these persons should be experienced mothers themselves.

Two periods constitute the 18-month home-visit programme. During 9 months, the family receives 30 visits of 30 minutes and participates in ten 2-hour group meetings. During the next 9 months, ten visits of 30 minutes each and fifteen group-meetings are scheduled. During home visits, parents are introduced to educative play and activities for children. Play material is brought by the visitor. In addition to the visits, group meetings aim to discuss in more depth issues of education and development, as well as answering parents’ questions. After 18 months, as a continuation of the support, children should join a playgroup or a crèche, and even a “mother and child” German class, if necessary. The pilot phase addressed 40 families; this number has doubled since 2013. After Bern, other cities implemented the programme: Winterthur, Basel, St Gallen, Solothurn, Grenchen, etc. In the canton of Bern, other communes followed the capital. One of them (Ostermundigen) even added the programme to the ordinary budget.

Part 2: educative modules and playgroups.

Playgroups are seen as a complement to child care. They are meant to offer quality educative work. Quality should be achieved through sufficiently trained group managers and through a minimal participation of two half-days (2.5 hours) per week. Participation is not free but means-tested subventions are supposed to make it accessible to everyone. The means test is based on the subventions parents receive from the canton for health care. According to the amount of the subventions decided by the canton – which is based on the fiscal declaration – parents pay between 0.80 euros and 6.50 euros per hour (with no subventions). Parents receive subventions for two half-days (2×2.5h). Only quality-tested playgroups can claim for subventions. They are organised in an association that holds an up-to-date list and offers information to inform parents in search of a place. The primano district coordination office links playgroups to the other existing pre-school education offers. It also helps parents during admission and subventions procedures. Playgroups also target parents interested in educative coaching.

Part 3: District coordination.

A coordination point is located in every participating district. Its role is to coordinate the work of all stakeholders, to provide information and to help with admission procedures. The programme takes place in the neighbourhood of targeted families, and if possible, in the same place as other activities, such as child-care facilities, parental counselling or in a neighbourhood house. The idea is to gain visibility and to build trust with the potential users.

One problem is access to target groups. Home-visiting personnel experienced some mistrust toward the State. Hiring non-professional people, eventually living in the same neighbourhood and speaking the same mother tongue does not completely reduce the mistrust. Another issue is related to residence status. Some families move frequently, others have no permanent residence authorisation and will one day be asked or forced to leave Switzerland. This uncertainty does not favour participation in such programmes.

The programme is justified by two types of argumentations. The first emphasises two values: equality of opportunities and distributive justice. Children do not have the same conditions and opportunities at the start of their life. It becomes visible and public as soon as they enter school. The State has the role of reducing these differences and ensuring a good start. It seems to be a well-accepted role of the State: it is legitimate to ensure equality of opportunities (but not equality of outcomes). The second argument is related to a social investment perspective and is two-sided. On the one hand, social investment aims to reduce inequalities and break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Equality of opportunities is a goal, but one expects some outcomes in terms of reduction of inequalities. Social investment thus supports social cohesion.

On the other hand, some arguments insist on the efficiency of the method (rather than on its fairness). It is efficient in achieving its goals (reducing inequalities), but also financially, in the global budget. As social problems partly redound to the commune, the latter has an interest in preventing them from happening. Primano is thus presented as “A paying investment for the future”5. Efficiency arguments are based on reports of scientific studies. An intermediate evaluation run by the Psychology Department of the University of Bern argues that children do produce better school performance when they have attended pre-school education. Documents and interviews recount studies showing that, depending on the length of the period studied, investments in pre-school education are multiplied by 2.5 to 166 for the most optimistic previsions.

64.3. Target groups

In the regular offer of 2013, the number of target areas is extended compared to the pilot project. Target areas are districts with high unemployment and social-assistance rates, with a median income lower than average, and with a high proportion of migrants. Target groups are usually addressed as “disadvantaged families”. Primano addresses children and parents in situations of poverty or close to the limit. Other factors are situations of unemployment or of a precarious job (working poor), parents with little formal education, lone-parent families, difficult migration situations (unstable resident status), trauma from the country of origin, difficulties with the local language, little knowledge about offers addressing children and families. House visits also occur in families with little contact with other families, little support from friends and family and little access to information. The need strengthens if these families live in small apartments and in children-unfriendly areas (with no playgrounds, lots of traffic). Poverty here is considered as a multidimensional concept.

64.4. Conclusion

Two innovative aspects of the project should be highlighted. The first is the strong emphasis on accessibility. “No access, no effect” says the creators of primano. Non-take-up of public services is an issue for the contemporary welfare state (Hernanz et al. 2004). Recommendations to prevent non-take-up often state the importance of evaluation of the needs and of the policies efficiency. Bern pre-school education programme arose from a need observed by school nurses. Regular evaluations of the needs and of the efficiency of the programme are led by independent stakeholders. However, being close to the needs and being efficient is not enough to prevent non-take-up. Problems of lack of information, administrative complexity, mistrust, shame, and financial obstacles have to be tackled. Statistics of the school nursery would show that 40 per cent of families with a difficult socio-economic situation do not have or do not find information on pre-school offers in Bern. Issues of trust are pointed out, particularly regarding migrant families. Primano developers count on coordination. Coordination centres are distributed in the targeted districts and, if possible, are combined with other offers from places already visited by the target groups. These centres should inform, orientate, and build with the population a relationship based on trust. Proximity is also reinforced by hiring mothers with no formal training for home visits. Because it recognises individual differences in the ability to convert the same resources into valuable activities, this concern over accessibility is close to Sen’s capabilities approach. This is thus an innovative aspect of primano.

The second aspect is related to the child-centred-ness of primano as a policy. Switzerland is rather conservative on children-oriented policies. Recent votes on child care and on making school compulsory for 4-year-olds showed that a considerable part of the population consider such measures an attempt to bring children under the control of the state. Even if this stance is less likely to appear in big cities, pre-school education is somehow innovative in Switzerland. Precautions have been taken; participation is voluntary and paying (in some cases the contribution in symbolic) and primano is run in the field not by “state agents” but by “mothers from the neighbourhood”. The project is a kind of public-private partnership as it has been developed by the licence holder, the private association a:primo. Primano is a path-breaking measure in a welfare system where the State should not intervene in the private sphere. It also recognises that children are both a private and a public responsibility. This recognition can be linked to social investment perspectives as children are suddenly seen as potential targets of social policies.

However, outside of the Swiss context, pre-school education programmes have existed for a long time in countries all across the world. One of the first was launched in 1964 in the USA under the name “Head start”. This federal programme was part of a “war on poverty” (Currie and Thomas 1993). A summer school was meant to prepare children of low-income families to start kindergarten. In 1969, Israel implemented a programme called the Home Instruction Programme for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) (Baker et al. 1999). This project was then exported to the USA and Australia – among other countries – where it is now widely spread. In the Netherlands, a pre-school education programme named Opstapje was born in the 1990s and was exported to Germany in the early 2000s. In 1999, Tony Blair’s New Labour launched a compensatory education programme under the name “SureStart”. This programme has been exported in other European countries, such as Germany. Finally, a well-known example is the successful programme “Triple P” for Positive Parenting Programme. It was developed in Australia 30 years ago (Sanders 2008) and now exists in twenty-five countries, among which Switzerland is one. Why did compensatory education take so long to be developed in Switzerland? One reason could be that the need was not felt. Poverty is not (and has never been since the Glorious Thirties) considered as a central issue in Switzerland. NGOs, such as Caritas, regularly fight to publicise the fact that poverty does exist in Switzerland. Beside that, public education is a Swiss pride and is considered as egalitarian, as there are no “good” schools and no “bad” schools. A second reason is that children of pre-school age and the family, in general, are largely considered a private responsibility7. Switzerland’s largest political party regularly condemns the attempts of the left to bring children under State control and their egalitarian tendencies8.


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64. Primano

Categories: Child and family care