Albertus-Magnus-Gymnasium
Stuttgart

Finalist for the region South-West

Matching daycare places and children more effectively through an innovative ranking system

The allocation of childcare spots brings several problems with it.1 Due to the great amount of demand and the complicated allocation process, daycare facilities lose orientation and are over-challenged. Further, many parents are unhappy, and children are often refused a spot without a reason although there would possibly still be vacancies in daycare. Not rarely, discrimination takes place, and social criteria are violated.

How can we allocate the daycare spots more efficiently?

Parents create a ranking of their preferred daycare facilities.

Daycare facilities hand in a list of criteria they would prefer their children to have.

The combination of the Gale Shapley algorithm and our ranking system matches the children with their best possible daycare facility.

The interests of parents and daycare facilities are satisfied.

To optimise the allocation process, we developed the ranking system:

First, the daycare facilities send a list of criteria to the central allocation service. The criteria are individual to every daycare, and the children who meet these criteria would fit the respective facility best. The daycare facilities need to prioritise these criteria by assigning a number to each of them. A child that meets these specific criteria scores the corresponding credit(s). The daycares are free to assign any number to any criterion; e.g. a very important one may have ten credits while one not as significant may have two. They are also free to hand in as many criteria as they want. These criteria and credits only need to be made up to later make a ranking list of the children for the specific daycare place and are completely independent of the numbers of other childcare facilities.

Why is this list of criteria required?
In order to be able to apply the Gale-Shapley algorithm – the best-developed allocation system – two lists are required: one of the children and one of the daycares.2 The list of the children contains the favourite daycare facilities while the list made by daycares contains the best-fitting children in the respective order. With the help of these ranking lists, the daycare places are allocated in the best possible way. Until now, the daycares needed to create the ranking by hand, and they had to analyse every single child. With our ranking system, a lot of time and effort is saved. From this saved time other children in the facility would profit because the educators have more time for them. At the same time, the creation of the ranking list is more transparent since the central allocation service can see which criteria were involved. Using the ranking system makes daycare place allocation more efficient, more transparent, lowers discrimination and both – daycare facilities and parents – will be happier!

1 Fugger, N., Klein, T., Riehm, T. (2017). Dezentrale Kitaplatzvergabe ohne Warteschlange: Ein Leitfaden. ZEWpolicy Brief, 4. doi:http://ftp.zew.de/pub/zew-docs/policybrief/pb04-17.pdf
2 Osipenko, A. (2019, May 26). Gale–Shapley algorithm simply explained. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://towardsdatascience.com/gale-shapley-algorithm-simply-explained-caa344e643c2

Their YES! topic

Efficiently organising the allocation of daycare places

by Nicolas Fugger and Tobias Riehm, ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research

In May 2017, around 450 parents queued up to sign up for one of the 45 crèche and 120 kindergarten places in a new daycare centre in Leipzig. At times, the police had to intervene to prevent the crowd of people from blocking the traffic. The situation in Leipzig made the extent of a problem directly visible, which otherwise tends to take place in the background. Despite the legal entitlement, parents have great problems finding a suitable place to look after their child. They often have to apply to a large number of daycare centres immediately after birth.

For many families, being able to take the child to a daycare centre is an important issue and is usually directly connected with the parents’ return to work. Since the return to work requires some preparation and must be coordinated with the employer, parents need planning security concerning the daycare centre accommodation of their child. Currently, parents suffer from a lengthy application process and planning uncertainty. A suitable allocation procedure should, therefore, allocate the childcare places at an early stage so that parents can consider in their planning whether, from when and where their child can be looked after. Besides, the allocation procedure should take the parents’ wishes into account to make the best possible use of the available childcare places. The benefit a childcare place brings to a family can depend on several factors. These include the childcare concept, the distance to the home or even to the workplace of one parent. To ensure that better-informed parents cannot gain an advantage at the expense of other parents, it must be always best for parents to state their wishes regarding daycare facilities truthfully. Local authorities also benefit from truthful information, as this plays a crucial role in long-term capacity planning.

Current allocation practices with little coordination involve considerable administrative work not only for parents but also for daycare centres. On the part of the daycare centres, the lengthy application process ties up staff that would otherwise be available for better childcare. A centrally coordinated procedure can significantly reduce this workload without influencing the freedom of the funding agencies in designing the award criteria. Several studies also show that it is important for the long-term success of an award procedure that parents and daycare centres cannot improve their situation by circumventing the centrally coordinated award procedure. This characteristic is known as stability.

The challenge is to develop a suitable procedure that takes the wishes of parents and daycare centres into account as far as possible and provides planning security. Existing procedures that have already been successfully applied in the education sector can be used as a basis for this, taking into account the special features of the allocation of daycare places.

How can a mechanism be designed to benefit parents and daycare centres?
What needs to be considered?

Stability: Parents and daycare centres benefit from their participation in the allocation procedure.
An allocation procedure is described as stable if neither parents nor daycare centres can improve their situation by making arrangements outside the allocation procedure. This also implies that there are no parents who can find a place at a daycare centre that was higher on their ranking list than the daycare centre at which they were allocated a place. However, many of the allocation procedures currently in use do not lead to a stable allocation and thus provoke dissatisfaction on the part of parents.

Strategic security: No strategic considerations on the part of parents is necessary.
An allocation procedure is described as strategically secure if parents do not have to worry about strategic considerations. On the one hand, this means that it must be optimal for parents to state their wishes regarding the daycare centres truthfully. On the other hand, it requires that it is optimal for parents to accept the first childcare place offer and not wait for another offer. In current practice, it often makes sense for parents to give a distorted indication of their true wishes: On their wish list they then only list facilities where they have a good chance of getting a place. It can also be worthwhile to speculate that more attractive offers will follow. This endangers equal opportunities, as better-informed parents can improve their position by strategic behaviour at the expense of others.