34.1. Short description
Investing in and reorganising the early child care services system was one of the programme points of the campaign for mayor Giuliano Pisapia in the winter/spring of 2010/2011 (Costa and Sabatinelli 2013). The commitment of the new administration for a more inclusive, open and plural city was intended as a frame of intervention also for this policy field. In a typical “social investment” approach (Morel et al. 2011), expenditure on education and early education is understood to be an investment for the present and future wellbeing of the city and of the citizenship.
Such a commitment stems from the acknowledgement of the transformations that have occurred in the life conditions of Milanese citizens and families in the last decades. First, the working conditions of parents, and especially of mothers, have deeply changed, with high requests in terms of flexibility and hard fatigue to reconcile work and family time. Secondly, family structures have diversified, and bear different needs: from needs that concern babies and children to needs that concern disabled adults and dependent elderly. Besides, the presence of children with foreign parents steadily increases (around 20 per cent). All these changes originate new social and educational needs and demands.
In this context, a debate was launched stemming from the idea that childhood services have an educative mission, as opposed to being an assistance task. According to Maria Grazia Guida (vice mayor with competence in education until January 2013) “it was since the mid-nineties that the city council did not organise a table to reflect and update the pedagogic model to which our child services should refer to. We want to put the child back at the centre of the city life”.
The project “Maggio 12” (May 2012, initially named after the deadline of the first year of participated planning) aimed exactly at promoting cultural debate and confrontation with all services’ workers, educators, families and experts, as well as with all the citizens on the themes related to the Child Education Services of the Milan Municipality. The widest participation of all “souls” of the city – civil, social and professional – was considered necessary by the promoters.
A team of experts was appointed to work on the project, including pedagogues, psychotherapists, neuro-psychiatrists, paediatricians, journalists and third-sector representatives. The team was committed to draft a new “pedagogic manifesto” for the city, to re-elaborate in an innovative way orientations and directions, re-formulate pedagogic guidelines, and inspire the re-organisation of municipal education services and the overall education system. The experts participate for free, which is relevant in a period of economic crisis and severe budgetary constraints.
34.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
In the case of “Maggio 12”, it is difficult to separate the contents of the programme from the governance pattern, even for analytical purposes, since the participative path is at the same time a style of coordination of stakeholders and part of the objectives to be achieved. In fact, the project was developed along a “participated path” involving all the almost 3,500 educators of municipal day-care centres and kindergartens, representatives of private bodies managing parts of the municipal services, representatives of private providers, as well as the families with children of pre-school age.
This path included a number of meetings, coordinated by the team of experts and organised at the neighbourhood level around seven main themes:
- Children as everybody’s good and as everybody’s responsibility. Centrality of the child in the educative processes, to be promoted in a pedagogic and didactic humus, promoting its autonomy, proposals, freedom and rights.
- Public and private dimension of childhood services. Solid synergies to be promoted among all stakeholders caring for children.
- Family as protagonist. A focus on the role of the family in generating identity, even amid the huge contradictions that characterise contemporary years.
- Children with handicaps. Goals: overcoming discrimination, promoting autonomy and proposals, supporting services’ staff and improving the equipment of facilities.
- Children anyway, Italians or foreigners. A focus on diversity as peculiar characteristic of the whole of mankind.
- Professional education and life-long training. A focus on the importance of sharing, exchange and confrontation moments, especially among educators and teachers.
- Miscellaneous. Diverse pedagogic reflections.
For each of the themes a number of meetings in the different city areas have been organised over the months. Synthesis contributions of all thematic meetings have been made available on the city council website. Each meeting counted the presence of around fifty people. According to some of the participants, the wide participation was due to enthusiasm towards the new course, as opposed to the centralist management of the previous administration, whose meetings were only informative and organised in a top-down way (see also section 2.2.2).
A public event was organised in May 2012, when the pedagogic manifesto was presented, together with the results of the thematic sessions, and where public debate was launched not only at the city level, but also at the national level, with the presence of representatives of other Italian metropolitan cities. The 2-day conference was titled Maggio 12: bambini di oggi costruttori del nostro futuro (May 12: children of today, builders of our future). The title clearly shows the adoption of a social investment approach (Esping-Andersen 2002; Jenson 2007; Morel et al. 2011). The declared inspiration is the theory of “ethical community” of the psychologist Howard Gardner (2007). This theory focuses on the idea that children feel that the community cares for them and, growing up, they will give back the care they received.
Vice-mayor Guida described the approach of the municipal administration as follows: “Caring for the youngest means caring for the future of the whole city”. The child is defined as a “good investment”, since the cities that have invested in children have largely gained in quality of life for all citizens. In the words of the municipal administration, then, a new start from children means giving back hope and future to a city that asks for development and social cohesion, despite the crisis and the divisions it is undergoing. “Looking at Milan from the point of view of the youngest can help us see what does not work and has to be changed” (Guida 2012)10.
“Maggio 12” is understood as a sort of umbrella programme for various types of projects and initiatives, of different size and scope. Among the wide-scope objectives of the city council in this policy field we find:
- The reorganisation of municipal early child education and care (ECEC) services (day-care centres and kindergartens).
- The release of a new regulation for the ECEC services, the first revision since 1975.
- The revision of the rules, procedures and criteria for the accreditation process of private ECEC services and for the agreement process (convenzionamento) with accredited private providers to “buy” places in day-care services to be reserved to children on the waiting lists for municipal facilities.
Among the more specific projects currently ongoing is Appunti per la città – Giardini scolastici (Notes for the city – school gardens). This was developed from an idea of two associations (Legambiente and ABCittà) and promoted by the municipality of Milan, after the children of the city had asked city councillors, during the last International Day of the Rights of Children, to improve the school gardens. The project involves 4,500 children of sixteen schools. Nine gardens have been identified in nine municipal kindergartens (one in each neighbourhood of Milan), located in areas that suffer from a lack of urban green areas. In order to be selected, the kindergartens needed to be available to open to the neighbourhood (the gardens need to be accessible from a public street) and willing to undertake a re-design of the gardens, together with the children themselves who will work on the projects during the winter, and on the restructuring from the spring, together with teachers, parents and local associations. After the re-design, which will be carried out thanks to a residue of 600,000 euros from a national fund on childhood (law 285/97, see Costa and Sabatinelli 2011), these gardens will be opened to all citizens out of school hours. In this sense, school gardens become bridges between the services and the neighbourhoods, spaces for the construction of citizenship. This project has therefore not only material objectives (improving the green areas at the disposal of children), but also cultural objectives, developed along a path that keeps together “accountability, participation and environmental education” (as stated in the city council website).
Another small project, “Happy Popping” concerns the organisation of areas where mums are welcome to breastfeed babies in public places. This initiative is coherent with the approach of making of Milan a child-friendly (and mum-friendly) city.
34.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
Coherently with an approach that defines childhood services as educational interventions, the municipal Directorate for Education has been reorganised and recreated, after a period of 30 years during which competences were split into separate areas. The municipal administration intends to pursue the continuity of provision for the whole 0-6 years age range, but institutional and legal constraints that overarch municipal regulations have limited this possibility up to now. The reform of the governance of education and childhood services also foresees the establishment of children’s city areas councils, consultative bodies that had been promised during the electoral campaign and that are currently being organised.
Specific to the M12 programme, as we have seen, the municipal administration claims the adoption of a participatory approach, a public dialogue and a listening path. Nevertheless, the organisation was reported to be insufficient, and the general objectives were not always clear to the different participants. Participating in the whole path was described as rather demanding in terms of time and organisation but – at the same time – some of the stakeholders felt excluded from the steps in which synthesis was made and conclusions were drawn. Moreover, it should be noted that some trade union organisations of ECEC services did demonstrate outside the theatre during the “May 12” event, denouncing that after a participative path that had lasted several months, no voice at all was given to them during the official event, and warning that staff working conditions may not be safeguarded in the organisational changes that the city council administration was about to apply to municipal ECEC services. Other stakeholders have defined this final public event as a “shop-window” kind of happening. Yet, the vice-mayor states that after the actual introduction of reorganisation, and the hiring on a permanent basis of quite a large number of formerly precarious educators (see below), the tensions with trade unions were overcome.
The municipal administration, under the impulse of the Milan town councillor and vice-mayor, has actively sought to establish a relationship with the town councillors of education services of the other Italian metropolitan cities. By the way, these are all women, and all part of administrations elected in the same year (in 2011, that is, in the midst of the crisis). This was built within the National Network of Italian Municipalities (ANCI), but at the same time, a specificity of the biggest Italian cities was maintained. A first result obtained was a confrontation with the national government about the possibility to bypass the Stability Pact for specific objectives and in presence of precise conditions. In the municipality of Milan this meant in particular the possibility to hire on a permanent basis around 150 precarious educators of municipal ECEC services. This contributed to relax the relationship between trade unions, educators and the municipal administration.
34.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The Maggio 12 programme intends to innovate local policies and services for childhood and families, within the frame of steadily wide needs for reconciliation policies and services in the urban and metropolitan context (see Costa and Sabatinelli 2012). The recent crisis had ambivalent impacts on the needs for child care services for children aged under 3 years: overall demands decreased, since those who are jobless tend to take care directly for their children, but demands for care for babies and toddlers have instead increased, since those who do have a job tend to reduce their period of leave. All in all, the intention of the Municipal administration is to maintain (not enlarge, due to lack of resources) the traditionally wide core of direct municipal provision, point of reference also for private providers for quality standards and pedagogic projects, to be used as a sound basis on which to build well-balanced public–private relations, with a strong coordination role for the municipality itself.
May 12 is not intended to be a sporadic event: the municipal administration understands it as a space for continuative participative reflection around childhood issues. A second edition (May 13) has already taken place, during the year 2012/13 under the guide of the new city councillor Francesco Cappelli. Even more than in the previous edition, the aim is to involve not only the municipal educators, but the whole city, around the main theme of the ability to care for children. The reflection was organised around three topics:
- Milano e i suoi bambini (Milan and its children) on the relationship between children and the city, on the knowledge of the different services available, their organisation, costs and features, and on the role of families and how to create an “educating community”.
- Vivere insieme nella pluralità (Living together in plurality) on multiculturalism.
- Bambini comunque (Children anyway) on social and cultural disadvantages.
The final event was a national seminar titled La città si prende cura dei suoi bambini (The city takes care of its children), in May 2013