Infant and Pre-school Care

Understand the choices you have as a parent of pre-school children in Portugal...

Crèches (crèches colectivas)

The Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Ministério do Trabalho e Soliedaridade Social) is in charge of the regulation and funding of crèche facilities for children from birth to three years of age.

Centre-based crèches are staffed by educators (educadores) who have a four-year university or polytechnic training, as well as nurses and social workers, all of whom have tertiary-level professional qualifications.

In the crèches, legislation states that group sizes should be twelve in public centres or ten in private centres, with child-staff ratios of 12:2 or 10:2. The reality is somewhat different with reports of both public and private institutions having over 25 toddlers enrolled.

Childminders (crèches familiares)

The Lisbon area in particular has many childminders. A childminder takes care of children between the ages of three months and three years in their own home.

To qualify as a childminder, carers (amas) must be aged between 21 and 54 and live in a house or flat that has a minimum amount of space for children to play and sleep when in their care. The minder will also have to spend some time in a residential crèche, where they will be observed when in charge of children. In addition, they need to declare that other members of their household are happy for them to welcome children to their residence.

Childminders may take care of a maximum of four children, or three if they have a child of their own who is younger than three years of age. Despite these regulations it is not uncommon for children to be left in the charge of unqualified childminders (friends, family and neighbours); in practice, the sector is little regulated.

Kindergartens/Nursery Schools (Jardims de Infância)

Attending pre-school (Jardims de Infância) from ages three to six is optional. Such establishments are run by a wide variety of state organisations, charitable institutions, private and cooperative institutions. State-run nursery schools are supposedly free of charge, but fees of 30 percent in private crèches and 70 percent in private kindergartens are not uncommon since there are not enough public institutions to serve demand and the State has entered into agreements with private entities. Fees are payable for private schools.

The Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação) defines the educational content for nursery schools and funds their operation, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Ministério do Trabalho e Soliedaridade Social, MTSS) provides support to low income families to enable children to attend kindergarten education through the provision of free meals and subsidies. Even so, in some parts of the country waiting lists are long and parents are advised to enrol their children in public institutions at least six months in advance.

All kindergartens are inspected by the Ministry of Education, all must have an outside play area (recreio) and respect established safety levels.

Kindergartens are staffed by child educators (educadores de infância) with a four-year university or polytechnic training. The maximum size for a kindergarten class is 25, with child-staff ratio being in general 25:1 and in some cases 25:2.

Recent standards concerns

There have been some abuses over conditions reported to consumer rights groups in recent years which found that 78 percent did not meet government standards in many parts of the country. The majority of parents in Portugal according to watchdog Deco are dissatisfied with pre-school care in the country.

There are some good, expensive private pre-school facilities where English language teaching is introduced.