Informations and abstract
Keywords: Early Education and Care; Local Government; Employment Regulation; Italian Welfare System; Public Services.
Austerity policies aimed at local governments produced a staff shortage in Early Education and Care (ECEC) services run by Italian municipalities. Because of widespread opposition to outsourcing to private providers, an increasing number of municipalities are transferring ECEC services to new bodies - «institutions», «special firms» or «foundations » - which are partially free from the legal constraints set by the austerity measures on hiring and personnel spending. These agencies are owned or controlled by the municipalities but they have managerial freedom and, in some cases, a distinct public or private legal status. Available case studies shed light on current ECEC reorganization processes, and the relevant changes in employment regulation. Hiring of new employees is made on the basis of private sector contracts. Most clearly this reflects the ongoing hybridization of municipal ECEC services, that increasingly share some features of both public and private organizations. So far these transformations have not undermined municipalities' crucial contribution towards universalism in childcare policy - which is badly needed in the Italian welfare system. However, worsening employment conditions may determine a decrease in the traditionally high quality of municipal ECEC, undermining their ability to be a reference model for service quality enhancement in the whole sector.