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Daycare - what? where? when? how much?

daycare

If you're going back to work after the birth of your child, then finding good-quality daycare will be high on your agenda. But what are your options? When should you start looking? And how much is it going to cost you?

 

Belgium is a country of working parents, and there is a comprehensive system in place to look after children from 0 to 6 (when mandatory primary school starts). 

All childcare for children aged 0 - 6 is overseen by either the Office de le Naissance et de l'Enfance (ONE) in French-speaking areas or Kind en Gezin in Flemish-speaking areas, and establishments or individuals are regularly reviewed to ensure they meet the necessary standards in terms of training, infrastructure and emotional wellbeing of the children in their care.

Free, state pre-school / kindergarten begins at 2.5 and most parents take advantage of this. 


Daycare centre or childminder?

One of the first decisions you might make is whether to place your child in a:

    • group environment, such as a daycare centre (either a 'creche' / 'kinderdagverblijf' or a 'pré-gardiennat' / 'peutertuin'); or
    • home environment with a registered childminder. 

In both cases, you will need to show proof that your child has been vaccinated against certain diseases before he/she can attend daycare. Read more about the mandatory vaccinations.

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Daycare centres

There are two main types of daycare centre:

    • a 'creche' / 'kinderdagverblijf' looks after children from 3 months to 3 years (sometimes from 6 weeks or even from birth)
    • a 'pré-gardiennat' / 'peutertuin/kindergarten' looks after children from 18 months to 3 years.

These may be either 'communal' (i.e. managed by the commune) or private. Fees in communal daycare are income-dependent (up to a certain ceiling), while in private daycares it may also be income-dependent or freely fixed, depending on whether the daycare is:

    • authorised ('autorisé' / 'gemeld') and accredited ('agrée' / 'erkend') or authorised, accredited and subsidised ('subventionné' / 'gesubsidieerd') by the ONE/Kind en Gezin - in both cases fees are income-dependent; or

    • only 'autorisé' / 'gemeld' - in this case the daycare is free to set its own fees

Below you can find some information to help you start your search for a daycare centre. At the bottom of this page you can find a comprehensive list of questions you might ask when you contact/visit a centre. 

Opening hours                                                                                                 

Creches/pré-gardiennats (whether communal or private) are typically open all year round, except for weekends, public holidays and during certain holiday periods. Many close for one month in the summer.  

Opening hours can vary between daycares, but are usually from 7:30 to 18:00.

How is care organised?    

This varies depending on the daycare. Some large daycares split children into age-groups, while in others, children of all ages are looked after together.

The ratio of children to carer can depend on the kind of daycare, and on whether it is authorised by the ONE or Kind en Gezin.

Price                                                                                                                                               

The price can depend on the status of the daycare:

  • If the daycare is accredited ('agrée' / 'erkend') or accredited and subsidised ('subventionné' / 'gesubsidieerd') the price you pay may depend on your income, up to a certain ceiling. This is the case of all communal daycares, and some private creches.

    Therefore, for lower-income families, this kind of daycare is financially the best option. For middle-income families, the salary-adjusted cost may be the same as that in certain private daycares that are not accredited.

    Also, in this kind of daycare, you only pay when your child attends (e.g. you don't pay if your child is sick and has a doctor's note, or for an agreed number of days while you are on holiday). 

    These daycares also adjust their rates for 'large families' (families with three or more children) and if you have more than one child attending at the same time.

  • If the daycare is not accredited ('agrée' / 'erkend'), it is free to set its own tariffs, and you pay whether or not your child attends. In some private daycares you continue to pay even when the daycare closes for its annual holidays. While some private daycares offer reduced rates for a second child, this is not always the case.
Tax deductions

All childcare costs from daycares that are authorised ('authorisé' / 'gemeld') by the ONE/Kind en Gezin are tax-deductible in Belgium at up to €11.20 per day (amount correct as of November 2013).

When should I start looking for a place?

If you know you will be going back to work after your baby is born, start thinking about daycare as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. Planning your separation from your baby may be the last thing on your mind at this early stage, but demand is high, and you may limit you choice even more if you leave it too late.  

Communal creches may have stricter rules about when you can officially request a place, so check in advance with your commune. e.g. you often have to wait until the beginning of the fourth month of pregnancy. Private creches may accept a request as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. In both cases, the creche should provide a response (place allocated, waiting list or refusal) within one month of your request. If you are placed on a waiting list, you should contact the creche again in the 7th month of pregnancy to confirm your need for a place.

Demand is especially high for subsidised daycare, given the fact that the cost is salary-adjusted and that you only pay when your child attends (e.g. you don't pay if your child is sick and has to stay home). Therefore, you may find yourself on waiting lists in several subsidised daycares.

Private, non-subsidised creches - being free to fix their tariffs - often have spaces available.

Where can I find contact details of daycares?

You may be able to find lists of daycare from:

    • your commune (try their website to save yourself a trip)
    • the website of the ONE / Kind en Gezin - both of these organisations have a search function on their websites 

Ask for local recommendations from friends and colleagues, or, if you are a member of the Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT), find details via their Information Service. 

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Childminders

There are two main types of childminder, who look after around 3 children from 0 to 7 years in their own home:

    • an independent childminder ('gardienne indépendante') who you may have found by yourself, or via the ONE / Kind en Gezin (who also maintain lists of independent childminders). Independent childminders are free to set their own tariff, and you will sign a contract that states the tariff, hours, what happens if your child is sick etc. 

    • a 'conventioned' childminder ('gardienne conventionnée') works in collaboration with a private or public service (e.g. CPAS - public social services) or a creche. The childminder's tariff is set by his/her 'employer'.

      In some cases, care by a childminder is 'accredited' or subsidised (in the same way as an accredited or subsidised creche), so you would pay according to your income, and would only pay for the time your child is present (i.e. not when sick with a doctor's note).

Both types of childminder are, or should be, overseen by the Office de le Naissance et de l'Enfance (ONE) or Kind en Gezin. If you are unsure if this is the case, ask the childminder.

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Pre-school / kindergarten

Between the ages of 2.5 years and 6 years, children can go to state 'école maternelle' / 'kleuterklas', which is free. These are usually part of a primary school, and a full day is usually from 8:30 to 15:30. Many also offer before- and after-school care for a small fee.  

In Brussels, access to Dutch-language pre-school ('kleuterklas') is sometimes dependent on having attended a Dutch-language creche, or on having at least one Dutch-speaking parent.

As demand can be high for places in good schools, start thinking about this as soon as possible if you know you will still be living here when your child is eligible to start. 

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Mandatory vaccinations

Under Belgian law, vaccination against polio is mandatory. You will need to show proof that your baby has been vaccinated against polio before he/she can attend daycare.

For daycare overseen by the Office de le Naissance et de l'Enfance (ONE), you will also need to show proof that your baby is vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough, type b Haemophilus influenzae, measles, rubella (German measles) and mumps.

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Questions to ask

When you visit a creche or childminder, it's important that you have a good feeling about the location and the staff, but what are some of the questions that you might ask yourself or the staff?

Organisation

How many children are there in total?
Are children split into age groups or all together?

Facilities

How much space do the children have to play?
Is there an outside space?
Are there enough toys and activities?
Where do the children sleep?
Can babies nap when they are tired, or do they have to follow a schedule?

Interaction

What language(s) do the staff speak?
How do the staff react when a child is upset?

Food

What do the children eat?
Will you see a menu in advance?
What about special dietary requirements?
Can you bring expressed breast milk?

Staff                    

How many staff work there?
What kind of training do staff have?
Are they trained in first aid?
What happens if staff are off sick?
Are other parents enthusiastic about the creche/childminder?

Admin Is the creche certified and subsidised?
What does the monthly cost cover? Food and nappies?
Do you have to pay if your child is sick?
Can you bring washable nappies?

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