The scholarly literature on family policies abounds with studies at the national level. Often central European governments establish measures for workers to balance work and family and policies that allow parents to obtain paid or unpaid leaves to care for their children. Yet the lives of most families revolve around towns, whether big or small, so towns or villages often provide kindergarten centers or parenting services for families with children. Nevertheless, scholars have paid little attention to family policies at the local level. There was not a coherent body of literature on such policies in Europe as of 2010, according to Francesco Belletti and Lorenza Rebuzzini, nor does it seem to exist yet. Belletti and Rebuzzini reckon it is just very difficult to compare these policies and find common patterns—which means that unlike national family policies, local ones are seldom discussed.
Although local family policies seldom gain the attention of scholars or the wider public, national governments recognize their importance. In Germany, for instance, the federal government sponsors 670 Local Alliances for the Family. The Alliances—local partnerships of municipalities, businesses, trade unions, and other local organizations—provide reliable child care and a supportive family-friendly infrastructure and, increasingly, the reconciliation of work and children care. In England, local authorities provide parenting services, such as advice, group-work, counseling, therapeutic facilities, etc. The Spanish federation of local governments and the Spanish government sponsored a guide for local parenting services (counseling and classes) in Spain in 2010. The Spanish regions of Catalonia and Murcia have also developed strategies to protect their families. The Catalan document highlights the low fertility of the Catalans as one of the motives for setting up a family strategy.
The family policies of local governments are also under the scrutiny of associations of families. In Portugal the Observatório das Autarquias Familiarmente Responsáveis gives an annual prize to Portuguese local governments that develop sound family policies. In Catalonia, the large families association asks all municipalities every year what tax reductions and public services they apply to large families. Family associations in Spain, such as the Foro Español de la Familia or the Federación Española de Asociaciones de Familias Numerosas, ask local governments to enact policies that support families.
Two cities in Spain recognized by UNICEF as children-friendly offer good examples of how local governments can support families. The town of Alcorcón, near Madrid, gives families deductions on the housing tax as well as price discounts on public services such as schools and sports facilities, and for leisure events for children. The town-hall also created an ombudsman for the families, the children, and the elderly. The town of Sant Cugat del Vallès, near Barcelona, claims to be the pioneer of the local family policies. The municipality offers public services, programs, funds, and tax deductions for families.
To sum up, there are many initiatives that foster the protection of families in the towns or villages where they live. Often, European central governments establish policies that provide fathers and mothers paid or unpaid leaves to care for their children, “baby-bonuses” at the time of birth, child allowances, and other benefits. Southern European countries are not so generous, though. Either way, it is up to municipal governments to provide other resources for families: kindergartens, tax deductions and prizes, deductions of public services for large families, parenting services such as counseling, etc. Such local help is even more urgent in the case of the Mediterranean countries. Families themselves, organized into national or regional associations, are most likely to lobby successfully for those local supports.
Pau Serra del Pozo is a researcher at the Institut d’Estudis Superiors de la Família of the International University of Catalonia, in Barcelona. He is currently carrying out a modest project on local family policies in Catalonia.