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 age 2.5 and most parents take advantage of this. Your child can often start on THE day they turn 2.5, but most often parents wait until the first day back after a school holiday.
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.
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 fee may 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.
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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).
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.
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?
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