There are many preschool and daycare centers in France but it can be difficult to find an open spot, especially in cities. Here’s a guide to finding a French daycare for your child.
France has a generous supply of pre-school and daycare centers but it can still be challenging to find an open spot, especially in childcare centres in Paris. How can you find a daycare centre and successfully put your child into the childcare system in France?
Parents can send their babies to both publicly and privately run nurseries, called crèches, as soon as the child is three months old (the end of the average maternity leave).
French public nurseries and daycare centres are funded by local and regional authorities and by means-tested parental fees. Most are open 11 hours a day and close only for one month over the summer period, as well as on public holidays.
All public and private nursery staff must meet strict standards of training, and are required to hold a childcare diploma. For information on the crèches or haltes garderies in your area, consult your local town hall, mairie.
All French cities and towns offer this service but small, rural localities may have a limited number of places and in big cities, demand often outstrips availability. No matter where you live, you are strongly advised to put your name down in advance. This is sometimes the first thing a French family does as soon as they find out they are expecting a child.
Alternative daycare options for babies and toddlers
For babies or for after-school care for older children, there is also a system of qualified nannies, assistantes maternelles, who are paid to either look after children either on their own premises or at your home; they are allowed to take a maximum of five children at one time.
An assistante maternelle holds a state childcare diploma and is subject to regular inspections. You can find a list of qualified nannies from your mairie.
There is also a system of crèches parentales, which are nurseries run by parent associations. These nurseries, which employ qualified assistantes maternelles, are licensed by the mairie; check there for details of the one nearest you.
The crèches parentales are non-profit; parents pay an equal share of the costs, often provide food and equipment, and take an active role in nursery management.
The common French word for nanny is nourrice; a person advertising services as a nourrice is always not the same thing as a state-qualified assistante maternelle.
Because of the stiff competition for qualified daycare, many parents end up hiring a private nanny. There are many agencies in Paris and other large cities to you help you locate one; some even specialise in finding bilingual childcare givers.
Hiring a nanny privately is also perfectly legal as long as the person is a legal resident and the employer pays all associated social-security charges; any paid work over five hours per week is subject to these charges.
To make this easier, the government has created the chèque emploi service, which both simplifies the process and returns nearly all of these charges in the form of tax deductions.
To sign up, obtain the forms from your bank, the post office, or from the local treasury office, comptable du trésor. Once the account is established that will be used to debit the social-security charges, you can contact your local URSFF office (see Social security system) to identify yourself as an employer. This can also be done online.
Nurseries in France (ecole maternelle)
Children in France can begin public nursery school, or école maternelle, as early as two years old presuming the child is completely potty-trained.
Here again, school is not mandatory until age six and while the maternelles are state-funded, they do not guarantee placement. Register your child early to guarantee their place.
The school-day here includes three hours in the morning and three in the evening; parents are allowed to pick up their children for the lunch break, which is often two hours long.
It is common for schools to offer both a lunch service and a childcare service, service de puériculture, on the premises both before and after school and during school breaks; while the schooling itself is free, you pay for these additional services. Fees are usually means-based and quite reasonable.
The maternelle is not merely daycare; they teach a state-mandated curriculum and children who miss these years of preparation may be at a disadvantage when they start primary school at age six.