Childcare Options in France

Find out about the different childcare and daycare options in France from birth to school age...

There are many childcare options in France, from birth to school age. Finding daycare in larger cities can prove difficult especially in state-run daycare centres (creches). The childcare options available to families in France include:

  • Assistante Maternelle - a qualified nanny
  • Halte Garderie - a daycare centre for children up to the age of six
  • Crèches - daycare centres; there are different types of creches - state-funded, parental creches, family creches and company creches
  • Jardin d’Enfants - daycare centres for children aged 2 to 6
  • Nannies and Au Pairs

For the majority of state-run services, the amount you pay is dependent on your income and is tax deductible. 

Assistante Maternelle

Also called a nounou, an assistante maternelle looks after your child from age 2 months onward either at your home, at their home, or in a centre with other assistantes maternelles called a maison d'assistantes maternelles. You will need to sign a work contract with the nounou, and one for each of your children that they look after. The assistante maternelle can look after your child for up to 45 hours per week, but must have a minimum of 24 consecutive hours off per week. A list of local assistantes maternelles can be found at the local Town Hall (Mairie).

Halte Garderie

These daycare centres provide occasional daycare, or daycare for a few days a week. To find a Halte Garderie in France, consult the website of the Caf (caf.fr) or ask at the local Mairie. 

Crèches

This type of daycare centre is for children aged 2 months to 3 years. A state-run crèche can look after up to 60 children at any one time, there are also mini crèches that look after up to 10 children. Family crèches welcome 1 to 4 children and parental crèches can take up to 25 children. 

Finding a place can be difficult in large towns and cities, and many parents try to enrol their children as soon as the pregnancy is known, however, it’s worth knowing that many of these crèches won’t register you on the list before the 6th month of pregnancy. 

You can search for your nearest centre online via Mon-enfant.fr.

Jardin d’Enfants 

These daycare centres are for children aged 2 to 6, and provide occasional daycare as well as educational activities. They can be ideal for children that are already at school, and only go part time, or if you need ad-hoc daycare. Enrolment takes place at the Town hall of your place of residence. 

Nannies

A nanny can be found through specialised nanny/au pair agencies and will cost more than state-run daycare options. However, having a nanny, especially live-in, can provide more flexibility.

Children start school in the year they turn three, although it is not compulsory until they are 6 years old.

Care for sick children and emergency leave

If your child is sick, daycare centres will not accept to look after your child. There may be more flexibility with assistante maternelles. Employees in the private sector, have the right to take 3 days off work per year to care for their sick child, although certain collective agreements may allow for more than that. Unless stipulated in a your work contract or in a collective agreement, these days are unpaid, with the exception of Alsace Moselle, where it is paid. You will need to provide a medical certificate from a doctor stating that your child is ill and requires the presence of a parent.

If your child is very ill or has a disability and requires your presence over a longer period, you are entitled to request time off. This is called a congé de présence parentale, which can be taken for up to 310 days over a 3 year period. During this time, your work contract is suspended and you don’t receive any salary. You may, however, be entitled to an allowance called the Allocation journalière de présence parentale.

Childcare for children during school holidays 

During French school holidays and outside of school hours there are a few options to have your school-age children looked after: 

Garderie: Each maternelle and primary school has the garderie service. This service provides a place where parents can leave their children under supervised care prior to school opening and after school closing times. It usually takes place within the school premises. The children are looked after by qualified carers (not teachers) often called dames de services. They are usually employed directly by the local mairie and may carry out other functions within the school. They look after the children who play, draw and do other activities while in the garderie. Working parents needing the garderie service must first register at the mairie prior to the start of the school term. The cost is based on household income and parents will be asked to produce salary slips and tax declaration form to determine the fee. The garderie usually opens at 07:30 and closes after school at 18:00.

  • For information on the school system in the early years, see the section on French Schooling & Education in France

Centre Aeré or Centre de Loisirs: These are organisations catering for children from age four. Working parents may put their children into a centre on Wednesdays and during school holidays. It is also possible to register a child to attend during school holidays even if the parent doesn't work. Some centres work on a ticket basis; a child may attend from time to time using the tickets. Other centres require parents to book ahead, so that appropriate staff (animatrices and animateurs) can be efficiently arranged.

Prior booking is becoming more and more common, but each centre - usually an independent association - has its own regulations. It is advisable (and almost obligatory) to enrol a child for holidays at least two weeks before end of term as some centres get fully booked very quickly. Parents will be asked for the usual paperwork to enrol the child which includes:

  • Proof of residence
  • Carnet de sante with vaccinations
  • (not always required) a medical certificate from a doctor, stating that the child is fit enough to go to the centre loisirs

Parents will have to complete the enrolment form including among other things: full contact details, information about any allergies the child has and information about any adults authorised to collect the child.

Children are divided by age groups and can participate in a wide variety of activities, with many outings and projects offered. Meals are available at the canteen.

Colonies de Vacances: These are summer holiday camps where children go away and stay for a week to three in a centre which specialises in outdoor activities or other themed activities such as art, theatre or music. The Colonies de Vacances usually cater to older children although many do take younger children, from age 4 to 18. There are many Colonies de Vacances throughout France, where it is a long-enjoyed tradition. Each centre is independently operated. Parents should telephone a centre directly at least two months before the holidays to receive enrolment forms.

Information about colonie de vacances and centre de vacances from Service Public https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F945

References and further information