Parents in Brussels are decrying the state of Dutch-speaking childcare services as kindergartens in the capital continue to suffer from a lack of staff and resources, leaving many families having to find alternatives themselves.
Many childcare services have been looking for employees for months. Figures requested by Flemish member of Parliament Hannelore Goeman show that more than 40 vacancies that were advertised in Brussels last year in the Dutch-speaking childcare sector remain unfilled.
In some areas of the capital, parents are forming collectives out of necessity – and also protest – to provide childcare for their kids and those of others during the week.
Thomas Schoenaerts, one father who has had to take action, explains that the crèche his youngest child goes to in Laeken can only provide childcare for one week in every three.
Crumbling quality of care
“The crèche really does its best to guarantee the continuity of the care with the resources they have," he says. "But it is frustrating to see how they suffer, toil and keep trying in vain. No wonder supervisors and carers drop out or choose another job."
"When I can only send my youngest child to the crèche for one week in every three then you know that something is seriously wrong. We are faced with a fait accompli and receive no support."
"I have seen the quality of childcare crumble,” he continues. “We have eight to nine children per supervisor, which is far too many. In Wallonia, the figure is six, the European average. Something urgently needs to be done about that standard. Children do not get the care they deserve and apparently the complaints of people from the sector are not being heard."
In what form the parents’ emergency childcare will take remains to be seen. “We have to figure that out a bit ourselves,” says Thomas Schoenaerts. “We are a mixed bag of civil servants, lawyers, architects, a director... There will certainly be some improvisation involved."
Overhaul of the system needed
"In any case, information sheets have already been drawn up for each child, with their possible allergies, eating habits, or advice on what we should do when they start crying. It is also our intention to get a feel for what the job of the supervisors is like, out of solidarity with their situation in this crisis."
"We are well aware that people in childcare are understaffed and also want to say clearly: 'Thank you for your care, this is not your fault.'"
The parents are calling for a complete overhaul of the system with improvements made in terms of the standard of care, facilities and of course the number of supervisors available. “Efforts must be made to upgrade the profession,” Thomas Schoenaerts says. “Students who are actually preparing for a job in the crèche, drop out too often during their internship."
"Last week, in our regular crèche in Laeken, there was a supervisor standing alone in front of a group of 15 children. That's just unsafe and inhumane. Childcare urgently needs to be at the top of the Flemish government's agenda, because it is we have run out of time."