Childcare in the Netherlands

Edition 26 April 2018, by Anastasiia Myronenko

Beyond any doubt, childcare has been a highly discussed topic in the Dutch society and Dutch politics for many years. The laws have been changed, the rules were adjusted – all with a high purpose of improving both the situation for the parents and the labor market in the sector.

Let’s look into the main fundamentals of the childcare system of the Netherlands. There are a few different options for young parents who are considering using help to take care of their child. First of all, there are a large number of official professional day care facilities. They are registered in the National Childcare Register and controlled by the municipalities, as well as the Ministry of Health. They are called kinderdagverblijven. Usually these centers are open from early in the morning (around 7.30 AM) until around 6 PM. The staff members are professionally trained and take care of groups of 4 to 8 children per person. Most public childcare facilities accept children from 3 months old. Children in a group are often of the same age, to make it easier for them to play and communicate. Most day care institutions have their established educational policy, some of them provide different additional services like food, diapers, milk, which are or are not included in the price. It is often advised to the parents to research in advance what kinderdagverblijven are in the area and visit them. It might be also useful to discuss a few aspects with a potential daycare giver, such as the educational philosophy of the center, the everyday routine for the children, their pick up and drop off policy, the meal plan, how they handle discipline issues, how informed the parents are about the progress of their child etc.

Another type of daycare is gasthouders. They are self-employed childcare professionals that take care of groups of up to six children aged between 0 and 13 years old. The main difference with kinderdagverblijven is that gasthouders look after the children either in their own homes, or in the house of the parents. The childminders are mostly employed through a special agency, gastouderbureau, which makes sure that the baby-sitters are qualified, trained and follow all the safety and hygiene regulations. For children that are aged between 2 and 4 years old there are special pre-school playgroups. At the peuterspeelzalen children are trained by professional teachers that help to get ready for primary school by developing social, cognitive and motor abilities. Starting from this year, peuterspeelzalen were transformed into kinderopvanglocaties. When the primary education starts, it is possible for a child to receive outside and after school care. For a few hours a day special organizations (NSO – naschoolse opvang/after school care and BSO – buitenschoolsse opvang/ outside school care) provide different kinds of activities – helping with homework, sports, playing outside, arts etc. Last but not least, parents can always employ a nanny to look after a child. Here too, there are a few options. First of all, a babysitter may work a few hours a day, mostly in the afternoon. They are called oppas, and can be both officially qualified (hired through oppascentrale) or simply have experience with babysitting (for instance, recommended by friends or family). A nanny can also be hired on a monthly basis and live together with the family. One more alternative is to hire an Au Pair – a young person that comes from abroad as a part of cultural exchange program. An Au Pair childminder lives with the family, helps with some of the house chores and receives a monthly payment of around 400 EUR. In addition to that, the Au Pair has a strict work regulation – they are allowed to work not more than 30 hours per week and they are supposed to have 2 free days a week.

The important distinctive feature of the Dutch childcare system is the possibility for the parents to receive reimbursement of the costs that they spend on the daycare. However, it does not apply in all cases and the benefits may vary from one situation to another. Generally speaking, there are a number of official requirements that should be taken into account while applying for the childcare benefit. First, both parents should be working, studying, training or following an integration course. Then, the childcare center or the childminder service has to be officially registered. The benefits usually don’t apply in case of oppas, Au Pairs or nannies (except for officially registered agencies). In addition to that, parents should have the nationality of an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, or have a valid residence or work permit. In some cases, parents are entitled to the benefits even if they live outside the Netherlands, in one of the abovementioned countries, and use the services of childcare there. The center which the child attends should also be registered in the Register Buitenlandse Kinderopvang. According to the Dutch tax law, the compensation can be provided for the maximum of 230 hours per month per one child, and the average cost of an hour of childcare in the Netherlands is from 5,52 EUR (for Homecare) up to 6,89 EUR (for Daycare).

Sadly, in the last few years the childcare sector has been going through a crisis. According to the Central Office for Statistics (CBS), in 2016, the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration paid out childcare allowance for 823 thousand children, while in 2015 there were still 764 thousand. In 2017 the increase went up to more than 56 thousand children. The number of working women is constantly increasing, which leads to the higher demand for the childcare services. Nowadays, parents often have to put their child on the waiting list of a daycare even before it’s born. When the Childcare Act was introduced, it was stated that the childcare cost would be equally divided between the government, employer and parents. If the employer does not contribute to the childcare allowance, the government adds a supplementary benefit, depending on the income of the family. In 2016, parents paid an average of almost 1 800 EUR on an annual basis, which was 32 percent of the whole cost. To compare, in 2008 the parental contribution was proportionately the lowest – 19 percent on average. Many families today are trying to cut back by engaging the grandparents to look after the children a few hours a week.

The labor market in the childcare has also suffered – in 2013, according to the reports, 95 companies went bankrupt and the amount of jobs dropped by 29 thousand. The number of the childminders is currently 1,4 thousand lower compared to 2016. However, in the last two years the number of the childcare facilities increased by almost a thousand. In March 2017 the leader of the Labour Party (PvdA) Lodewijk Asscher, stated that billions of euros had to be invested in the sector. This year, a few new initiatives are expected to further improve the quality of childcare.