Belgium – Flanders
Parenthood and employment
Belgium, like neighboring Netherlands, has a strong tradition of women fulfilling a predominantly domestic role, rather than a professional one, which was supported by Roman Catholicism. This started to change since 1990s and the occupational gender gap has been decreasing in recent years, especially among younger generations. Women are often working in part-time jobs.
There is negative employment impact of parenthood on women, but one of the smallest in Europe.
Maternity/parental leave and benefits
If you are working and expecting a child, you need to tell your employer no later than eight weeks before the due date. Mothers can take up to 15 weeks maternity leave, receiving benefits equivalent to 80 percent of your salary for the first 30 days and 75 percent for the remainder (subject to a maximum). Fathers can take 10 days paternity leave, seven of which are paid at 82 percent of the salary (subject to a maximum) within the first four months of the birth.
Mothers can also opt to take eight months part-time leave, meaning they take on part-time hours at their place of work for the eight month period.
Employees with children are also entitled to parental leave if the child is younger than 12 (or 21 in the case of a physical or mental disability of at least 66 percent on the Official Belgian Scale). Paternity leave entails:
- a maximum of four months of full-time work, consecutively or split up into periods of at least one month;
- a maximum of eight months of part-time work, consecutively or split up into periods of at least two months;
- a maximum of twenty months working 4/5, consecutively or split up into periods of at least five months.
In 2014 a new decree was regulated which tries to simplify the organization of the childcare sector in Flanders. Whereas there used to be a multitude of childcare initiatives, there are now only three major forms of childcare, based on the number of children taken care for.
- Family organized childcare: facilities with max 8 children
- Group organized childcare: facilities with 9 children or more
- Home childcare: for ill children that need to stay at home and can’t go to their regular facility
All formal Flemish childcare organisations must have a (quality) license from the policy agency Child and Family (Kind en Gezin). This organization is a governmental, public agency dependent on the Flemish Minister of Welfare. Child and Family regulates and supervises all formal childcare up to 3 years, but doesn’t organize childcare services (Levrau, Neels, Loos & de Valk, 2014)..
The objectives of the decree of 2014 are to ensure that the quality of care remains high, prices remain stable and the number of care facilities continues to expand in the long run. Therefore a new system subsidies was set. In this new system the subsidy of a childcare facility gradually increases when the facility fulfills to more conditions.
A license from child and family is not enough to get subsidized, it is merely a set of starting conditions. To get a basic subsidy, the facility needs to be open for 220 days, the nurses need to have a certain knowledge of Dutch and there needs to be a language policy to stimulate Dutch language in children, whilst ensuring an important place for the mother tongue of the children. The nurses need to be supported in this task (Eeckhout, 2014).
A second set of conditions is for those facilities with an income-related pricing policy and who apply certain priority rules for enrollment in the childcare facility. The amount each family pays not only depends on their income, it also depends on the number of hours per day the child attends the care facility (Levrau, et.al. 2014).
The third set of conditions focusses on vulnerable families and is called the ‘plus’ subsidy (Eeckhout, 2014). Facilities with 30% of children from target groups (e.g. poverty), that have specific services for these families (e.g. urgent need for childcare, respect for diversity,…) and that adjust their childcare to the needs of these target groups, can get this third degree of subsidies.
The gradually subsidy system is shaped as a staircase. This means a facility only can apply for the second degree of subsidies if they have a license from child and family and if they meet all the specifics for the basic subsidy. For the third degree, they need to have a license, the basic subsidy and meet every condition of the second degree.
The only two exceptions to this staircase system are modules for inclusive and flexible childcare. Inclusive childcare is a regular childcare that also cares for children with special needs. Flexible childcare means that the childcare facility either has a great flexibility to parents, for example childcare that isn’t set on a specific day or set of days, or childcare at nights or weekends.
To encourage pedagogical quality in childcare, there is a pedagogical framework for childcare facilities. This pedagogical framework is a concive vision text on quality childcare and contains a best efforts obligation for childcare facilities (MeMoQ, 2014). This means that all childcare facilities have a commitment to work along the lines of the vision text and make efforts in this direction, but without the obligation to achieve results. The vision text describes what childcare means for children, for families and for society.
Qualification of nurses/childcare professionals
Certification of the childcare workers is an important step to quality in care facilities. In 2011 the professional bachelor Early Childhood Education was founded according to the plans of the decree of 2014 to provide the sector with more professionals who are certified to manage day care settings or professional who can give pedagogical support in the sector. The decree focuses not only on the certification of managers in childcare facilities, but also on the childcare workers. In 2024 at the latest, everyone in day care settings has to have qualifications to work there.
Childcare workers in all facilities of family or group based childcare, need to have a vocational training (EQF 5). This vocational training can be attained in secondary education or adult training centers. In secondary school it means two years general vocational training with a focus on care and one year specific on childcare for children up to 12 years. The program in adult training centers contains 1.280 hours of training on a variety of subjects in the domain (Kind en Gezin, 2018)
Managers of childcare facilities up to 18 children need no more qualifications than childcare workers. Managers of care facilities with 19 children or more need a bachelor diploma (EQF 6) in a relevant domain (e.g. Early childhood education, nurse, teacher,…) (Kind en Gezin, 2018).