Within the ProChil: Professional Childcare in European Nurseries project a meeting of partner organisations was organised at the beginning of March in the Belgian town of Antwerp. During this week partner organisations were exchanging experience in the childcare for 3 year olds and worked on the creation of the new educational programme. There was not only a professional program at the local Karel de Grote University College, but the partners also had a chance to visit two nurseries here.
First institution we had the opportunity to visit was the private Rainbows day care centre, second one was the GZA Kinderopvang set up at the local hospital.
The youngest children visiting Belgian day care centres are only two months old. Mothers use nurseries for financial reasons and do not have much choice: independent entrepreneurs have only two months of paid maternity leave, employed women have three months of paid maternity leave. The oldest children in the centre are around 2,5 years old, maximum is 3 years. That is the age, when a child is accepted to a kindergarten. Mothers want to use kindergartens as soon as possible as they are much cheaper than day care centres. Kindergarten is not compulsory in Belgium, only primary educaton (from 6 years) is.
Besides centre fees, day centres are also financially supported by local administrations.
As children in these centres are very small, most of the time is dedicated to hygiene and food. Food could be breast milk brought from home or artificial milk. Mothers who want to breastfeed their babies can use a breast feeding corner or pump the milk and hand it over to the carers. Several times a day a smoothie from fresh fruits or vegetables is being prepared.
In the centre we visited, the carers were recording information about the meals into an online electronic system, which can be accessed also by parents. Also number of used nappies is registered here. Older children were registering their potty use in a fun way themselves as a part of independence training. An important part of the rooms were special places for changing nappies. Below you can see that a whole piece of furniture with storage space is used. Worth noticing are also slide-in stairs, which children use to climb up the changing table.
Belgian carers need to have vocational training. Team leaders of facilities with more than 19 children need a Bachelor degree (university college, 3 yrs). A Master (university: 5yrs) is never obliged. For 8 children one carer is needed by law, for 18 people two carers are needed. In the day centres they usually try not to have more than 6 children per one carer. To get the state support, the minimum opening hours have to be 7 hours a day. The day centre we visited was opened between 7:00 and 18:00.
As the children are very small and they are quite high number per one carer, in the facilities which we visited the children didn’t go out much, however, this differs in other facilities. If less than 12 children are present, the carers use a cart for 6 children. If more children are present, they can at least play at the courtyard.
In the contrast to Czech law, Belgian authorities are very lenient in the question of outside space for children. The requirement of 4 square metres of outside space as we know it would not be met by almost any day centre in Belgium. (At the picture you can see a garden for 60 children.)
What we found really interesting was constructional and technical solution of the buildings as it is a much discussed topic in the Czech Republic in connection with children groups (the most similar organisation to Belgian day centres). In the first day centre no special solution was used for fire safety (one year olds on second floor with narrow staircase), in the second centre the fire safety was everywhere – first aid poster, evacuation plans, two evacuation cots with wheels at each corridor. We were also surprised that the evacuation practice was done every morning.
Sleeping solutions vary – respecting the age of children. They are either part of the play area or in a separate room. For small children there are classic wooden cots, for bigger children bunk beds or bigger wooden beds. We were a bit terrified by shut-off cots, but the director explained it is the only possible solution for space reasons and shutting is necessary for safety reasons.
In the centres in Antwerp not only allergies are dealt with in connection with food, but also parental preferences. Rainbows day centre specialises on international clientele and prepares all food in the halal way. Very important are also language skills of the carers. Pre-school day centres are a very important part of the immigrants integration in Belgium, and above all in Antwerp, where 50 % of inhabitants is of immigrants origin. If you look at children 0-9yrs, recent number show that 72% of them have an immigrant background.
For more information, follow also the facebook page of Prochil project, we are preparing an article about international approaches of dealing with children with special needs.
Daniela Vašíčková, Štěpánka Těžká, Family and Job