Child care and career: the difficult balancing act

Most staff members have to face it at one point or another. The birth of a child requires them to make difficult decision regarding their career. Mostly this is true for mothers but more and more also for fathers.

The UN provides for maternity leave and paternity leave but they help up to a point and do not always permit to take proper care of the child in the early years while keeping the job. Special leave without pay helps but it is not always an option and it has its limitations. Staff faced with the difficult decision return to work after they have exhausted all the options, need to find a solution for the proper care of their child. What is available in the locality varies from country to country.

In Austria, the social welfare system allows parents who are locally employed to take up to two years of leave with a minimum pay while keeping their job. Because of these policies, local authorities focus the provision of child care services mostly from two years and above because on most cases one of the parents will stay at home with the child at least he/she is two years old. Thus, the number of child care places for children below two years is limited and UN staff working in Vienna have considerable difficulties in finding child care facilities for children below two years when they need to return to work after sixteen weeks or even after an extended period of special leave without pay.

The staff union and associations and the management of the UN organizations based in Vienna (UNOV/UNODC, IAEA, UNIDO and later on CTBTO),  aware of this problem presented their concerns to the Municipality of Vienna. The Municipality agreed  in 1986 to establish and staff a child care facility within the premises. The Vienna International Centre (VIC) Child Care Centre caters for children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years. There are 148 places available and they are distributed among the four Agencies of the VIC. Places are allocated according to a set of eligibility and priority criteria (income, contractual status, length of service, marital status, etc.), although hardship cases are reviewed on an individual basis. Staff can submit their application via Lotus Notes.

The Centre is managed by the Municipality of Vienna on the same lines as other municipal Kindergartens, including fees, teaching and administrative arrangements. The language of the Child Care Centre is German, although some of the staff of the centre are able to communicate in English with the parents. The Centre follows the pedagogical approach that is used by the "Kindergarten" of the Municipality and follows many of the Montessori methods that embraces the maxim: "help me do it myself!". The focus is on learning the skills that will ease a child towards greater independence.

The Child Care Centre is open from 07:30 - 18:00. It is closed on all Austrian and UN holidays. It is open during the summer but parents are asked to take the children out for four  weeks between June and August.

There is an Advisory Committee consisting of representatives of the management of the Child Care Centre, the Administrations and Staff Unions of the participating organizations that provide the necessary oversight and advise on the management of the Centre.

Demand is still high and there is a waiting list although there are some alternative options available especially for children from 3 to 6 years.

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