Childcare and Pre-school Education
Find out about the childcare and schooling options available to parents in Belgium, plus information on babysitting services, childminders and mother and toddler groups...
Maternity leave in Belgium is relatively short meaning that many children are cared for away from the home from a relatively young age. Parents can either enroll their children for state-run childcare or in independent, privately funded crèches and nursery schools.
Parents have a number of childcare options catering for newborns up to the age of three, all of which are controlled and subsidised by ONE or K & G. This type of childcare is very popular so waiting lists can be long and the application procedure should start in the fourth month of pregnancy when prospective parents will be asked to specify how many days a week their child will attend a given facility and the anticipated start date. Confirmation of a place is usually received in the seventh month of pregnancy. Priority for places is given to children of parents who work full-time.
As pre-primary education is provided completely free of charge from age two and a half, many children leave subsidised childcare at this age. However, parents can continue to receive tax benefits for childcare costs incurred up to the age of three.
Crèches/nurseries: from birth to three years
In most instances nurseries are run by the local community or Public Social Welfare Centres (Centre Public d'Action Sociale, CPAS).
Prospective parents may visit the crèches and nurseries and ask questions regarding facilities, staffing levels and qualifications, what languages are spoken, whether or not food and nappies are included, and so on.
The fee depends on the taxable income, and tax benefits are often given. Parents placing more than one child in a crèche are often granted reductions on fees.
Crèches are open long hours, usually from 07:00-18:00 and they stay open all year round closing only at weekends and on national holidays. They are normally required to cater for between 18 and 48 children with trained staff.
Playgroups/childcare organisations: from eighteen months to three years
Usually known as pregardiennat, these establishments operate similarly to crèches with between 18 and 48 places and trained staff. Opening hours are the same as for crèches.
Free pre-primary school facilities are provided for children who have reached age two and a half. There are no formal lessons and everything is done with an emphasis on play. Where places are limited, priority is given to mothers working full-time. These pre-schools are often attached to a primary school. Attendance is not compulsory but it is very popular (it is cheaper than other childcare alternatives). By age five 99 percent of children are in school.
Pre-schools are open in term-time only from approximately 08:30-15:30 with a half day on Wednesdays. Most offer extended hours at a cost.
Childcare in the Private Sector
There are other organisations which give further childcare options for newborns up to six years old, when compulsory primary education begins. Although these organisations are still controlled by ONE or the K & G, they receive no subsidies and set their own fees.
Independent crèches/nurseries: from birth to three years
Essentially run along similar lines to the state facilities, but places may be easier to find. Part-time places (up to four hours a day) are common at these organisations. Most are known as Crèches parentales and are staffed partly by professionals and partly by parents. They offer a maximum of 14 places.
Child houses (Maison Communale d'Acceuil de L'Enfance): from birth to six years
Usually catering for children full or part-time with between 12 and 24 places, they must be staffed by suitably qualified people. They open similar hours to crèches, that is at least 10 hours a day.
Registered childminders: from birth to six years
These are people who provide care for a child day or night in their own home. They may be affiliated to a crèche or a child house or be completely independent. They can have up to four children in their care at any one time. This figure includes any of their own children less than three years of age who are also in their care.
Other independent facilities: from birth to six years
Some of the international schools offer care and programmes for pre-school children.
- Consult the European Council for International Schools (ECIS) for more details
There are also a number of privately run pre-schools and playgroups. Typically these are aimed at children aged between two and a half and four and children normally attend on a part-time basis.
As one might expect, informal babysitting services are often organised among friends and neighbours. Many students also offer their services at reasonable rates.
Mother and Toddler Groups
There are some informal mother and baby/toddler groups which meet regularly. Many have been set up and are attended principally by expatriate families. This is simply because many Belgian children are already in pre-primary education by the age of two and a half.
The TMS team (travailleurs médico-sociaux) at ONE will have details of local groups. Alternatively ask at the local Town Hall (Maison Communale/Stadhuis).
- The Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT) is also a good source of information and has a list of mother and toddler groups in the Brussels region
- Community Help Service English speaking support for families relocating to Belgium
- Public Social Welfare Centres (CPAS/OMCW)
- Brussels site has links to parent and toddler groups as well as details of crèches
- Brussels British Community Association has details of social events including mother and toddler groups
- American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium lists groups for expatriates including mums with young children