If you plan to enrol your child into childcare in Spain, here’s a guide to the different childcare options in Spain.
Many children in Spanish childcare start from a young age, and childcare facilities in Spain are generally of a high standard. Choosing a nursery that suits your child can be a tough choice wherever you are – and particularly if you are new to Spain. Here’s a guide to help you make the right decision for your family when choosing childcare in Spain.
Whatever your nationality, expect a few cultural clashes when it’s time to find someone to look after your children in Spain. Giles Tremlett, The Guardian’s correspondent in Madrid, had been living and writing about Spain for many years when he first started looking for a nursery for his two-year-old son.
As he writes in his book, Ghosts of Spain, “Our first surprise was that we had arrived late – by about two years. In every nursery there was a room, or two, devoted to rows of cots.”
Post maternity and standards in Spain
As Tremlett discovered, high numbers of children in Spain start nursery at 16 weeks, the end of statutory maternity leave:
“The children at our nursery school were, it was argued, here to learn to socialise. In reality, however, the youngest were here because their fathers would not have dreamt of stopping, or reducing, their working hours, and it was time for their mums to take up their posts at work again.”
The standard of daycare institutions is usually excellent. They can be roughly divided into guarderias which take children from three months upwards and a nursery, which have three age groups: P.0 (infant to one year old), P.1 (one to two years old) and P.2 (two to three years old).
In 2008 the average enrolment rate of children under three years of age in formal childcare was 38%, and children ages three to five years old in pre-school educational was 98%. Thus, in many cities and towns in Spain, there is a shortage of state run nurseries.
State-run nurseries and subsidies in Spain
The state nursery usually provides childcare for the whole day, and the cost is roughly €250 a month (including lunch). The main criteria for a child to be accepted in a state school nursery are proximity between home and institution, and the presence of siblings.
Additional registration requirements vary depending on the region and the municipality. There may be some advantages for large families, lone mothers, or children with disabilities. Regional and local regulations also control the organization of the application procedure, as well as entitlement to childcare support.
Since obtaining a nursery place subsidised by the state usually means applying to the Comunidad (regional authority) and providing evidence of low income, many parents turn to the private sector instead. In that case, be prepared to pay about a €400 annual fee in addition to the enrolment to reserve your child’s place.
On top of this, you have the monthly fee which varies between €400 and 600 depending on several factors: time spent in the nursery, lunch, and the preferred language for example.
Caregiver to child ratio and licences
The child care ratio also appears to be essential: where Scandinavian countries have three adults for just ten children, in Spain one staff member care for 10 to 15 children. Spanish regulations specify a ratio of 1:8 for babies less than a year old, rising to 1:20 for two- to three-year-olds.
Nurseries apply to town halls and comunidades for licensing on the basis of meeting the ratios, as well as other standards such as having trained staff, proper hygiene and safety, and large enough premises.
Fiona Borthwick, a British lawyer with a 19-month-old daughter, advises fellow parents to collect a list of approved nurseries from their town hall and comunidad. She also advises parents to demand information on the nurseries.
Licence policy in Spain is still not that strict with children daycare institutions, and once licenced they may not be inspected regularly.
Recommendations and comparing childcare facilities
A parent’s best policy is to ask other parents for recommendations and, if Spanish is limited, use the English language media or English-speaking institutions like the British Council who provide lists of nurseries (including English-speaking ones).
Other cultural organisations like the German Goethe Institut or the Alliance Française could also be useful to German and French speakers.
It is probably advisable to visit several nurseries to get an idea of what is available. Keep in mind that the average weekly hours for childcare among children under 3 years are 28 hours a week. With most nurseries you are able to choose between morning (8.30am to 2pm) and afternoon (2pm to 6.30pm) ‘periods’, apart from the full time service.
Borthwick thinks companies could make life easier for both their male and female employees by being more family-friendly.
“The way nurseries are set up isn’t the real problem. The problem is that employers here are not at all flexible. One parent could go in later to work and another could leave earlier, for instance. It’s a shame, at the end of the day, because I think both parents want to spend time with their children.”
Spanish child allowance and maternity benefits
From July 2007 all babies born or adopted in Spain are entitled to one payment of €2,500 providing the mother can prove she has lived here for two years and contributed to the system during that time.
The money is paid to the mother, except in the event of her death where the money would be given to the father. In the case of adoption one parent would be eligible to claim the payment, which is usually the mother except for same sex couples.
Another subsidy that is provided by the state is the familias numerosas benefit. This is a financial support for families with three or more children.
Working mothers who have a fulltime employment contract are eligible for paid maternity leave — a period of sixteen weeks before or after delivery. This is increased by two weeks for each child in the event of multiple birth from the second baby onwards. They are also entitled to allowance pay for childcare.
Thus, applying for the childcare benefit, a mother is automatically applying for the childbirth benefit of €2,500.
To apply, you can visit your local Social Security Office in Spain.
Mothers entitled to legally established work leave periods will also be granted a subsidy known as maternity benefits. It starts either from the day of birth of the child, the day of the maternity leave (in case it is prior to delivery) or from the date of the legal ruling granting adoption and foster care.
The benefit is granted and paid by the competent managing body (INSS or ISM).
It consists of a grant equivalent to 100 percent of the social insurance base given to all workers who have legally established leave periods for biological maternity, adoption or foster care. The duration of the leave is 16 uninterrupted weeks, which is extendable in the event of multiple births, adoption or foster care, or the newborn baby being disabled or hospitalised.
Do your homework
In conclusion, check all options before making up your mind. Thoroughly examine the Spanish Health Ministry’s regulation for maternity (www.msps.es), and make sure you have investigated all potential child daycare centres and institutions in advance.
A thoughtful mum and expat in Spain advises parents to consider all possibilities for children daycare: hiring a babysitter, signing up for a state nursery or applying for a private one. Visit forums and parental groups (quite useful is www.mumabroad.com) where you can acquire valuable information and details, as well as advice by people who have already experienced the childcare process.