Gearing up to go back to work after maternity leave? After a period of simply embracing full motherhood? Or maybe you have just moved to France and want to understand the childcare options available?
It is never easy to leave your little one, but rest assured that France has an excellent care system for preschoolers designed to stimulate kids’ brains and get them ready for school while giving parents the flexibility to go back to work (or just have some time off!) on their own terms.
A bit of context
To understand the French childcare system, it helps to refer back to its creation and its place in the country’s social system. France’s first crèche was created in Paris in the 1840s during the industrial revolution to allow mothers to work. The social purpose of the childcare system remains largely unchanged today, and the support and flexibility it provides parents helps explain France’s fertility rate, which is the highest in the European Union.
The childcare system today is comprised of various types of crèche, as well as a myriad of other options, which can make selecting one somewhat daunting for any expat parent. This blog post is designed to help you understand and navigate the system, so you can make the right choice for your family and your little one.
Preschool (ages 3 – 5) was made compulsory in France starting in 2021, but many families choose to send their kids to full-time care before this age so both parents can get back to work.
The French crèche, or nursery, system accepts children from the age of just 2 months and provides five days per week of all-day care right through to the start of pre-school.
The term crèche comes from the Francique word krippia, meaning a manger, which bears the biblical connotation of being a safe place to lay a baby. Rest assured, the rigorous standards underpinning France’s crèche system today are indeed designed to put parents and kids at ease.
Crèches are usually managed by a local authority (municipality, departmental services, etc.) or by a private manager (such as an association), and all are supervised by the regional maternal and child protection service (Service de protection maternelle et infantile – PMI), ensuring a high standard of care.
Crèches are run by multidisciplinary teams including a director and other professionals, such as nursery nurses, doctors, education specialists for young children, etc. The ratio of kids to professionals is capped at five for babies and eight for toddlers and up.
Types of crèche
Collective crèche (crèche collective)
Collective crèches are like mini schools. They can typically accommodate up to 60 children, split by age into groups, although some mini-crèches are on a smaller scale with around 10 kids in total. Opening hours usually correspond to office hours.
Family crèche (crèche familiale)
A family crèche offers a hybrid system in which kids are looked after by licensed caregivers, who welcome up to 4 children in their homes, combined with one or two days per week of attending the family crèche with their caregiver and other children in order to encourage socialization.
Caregivers are employed by the crèche itself, meaning that they benefit from the support network of the crèche (such as doctors, nursery nurses, etc), while parents are spared the administrative formalities of employing a caregiver directly.
Parental crèche (crèche parentale)
A parental crèche is run by parents’ association, and it typically involves parents in the crèche’s duties, alongside the professional staff, on a rotational basis. This type of crèche is limited to a maximum of 20 (or sometimes 25) kids.
Company crèche (crèche d’entreprise)
As the name suggests, company crèches are run by employers for the children of their employees. They are generally located on the company premises, with management usually handled by a professional agency. Inter-company crèches (crèches inter-entreprise) are a similar setup, except they are open to the employees of multiple companies.
Applying for crèche
Step 1. Find a crèche
You can find your local crèche (and other childcare options) on the government portal here (or you can call us!)
Step 2. Register (early!)
Registering your child for crèche may not be at the top of your to-do list, but you should register as early as possible. Indeed, many families in France pre-register for crèche places before their child is even born.
To register, contact your local mairie (town hall) as well as the director of your preferred crèches.
The documents you’ll need in order to register varies by the establishment, but generally include:
- Birth certificate copy (and French translation – we can help you with this!)
- Copy of your livret de famille (family record book) – families without at least one French national parent usually don’t have this, so don’t worry!
- Copy of the IDs of both parents
- Proof of address in France
- CAF** attestation
- Copy of your most recent tax return notice or other proof of income
- Copy of your RIB (bank details)
- Two checks to cover the crèche deposit and management fees
- Copy of your child’s health record including obligatory vaccinations
- Medical certificate of fitness signed by your doctor + prescription for doliprane
Step 3. Pay the fees
The amount you pay for crèche depends on your family’s income and family situation, while families with children under the age of 6 are given a tax credit for their childcare costs.
It is important to have an account set up with CAF before tackling your crèche application – book a free meeting with us if you need our help doing this.
Other regulated childcare options
Halte-garderie is basically part-time crèche, often used for a few hours or a few half-days per week by parents who are not working full-time.
Kindergarten (Jardin d’enfants)
Combining elements of crèche and nursery school, kindergartens welcome kids from 2 to 6 years old.
Caregiver (assistante maternelle – AM)
Caregivers in France are regulated and certified to look after up to four children in their own home. They are hired directly by families, which gives parents a more personalized level of care. The flip side is managing constraints such as the caregiver’s periods of leave (including potentially sick leave) and coordinating vacation periods with other families employing them.
To apply for this type of childcare, contact your local PMI who can provide you with a list of all the AM in your area, allowing you to contact them and set up interviews. We can help you with the whole process, including ensuring you get the benefits you are entitled to from the CAF.
Caregiver collective (Maison des assistantes maternelles – MAM)
MAMs are a shared space used by up to four registered caregivers, each looking after a maximum of four children, providing a crèche-like social environment.
An alternative option – hiring a nanny (full time or shared)
You can hire a nanny (or nounou) in France, whose responsibilities are defined in the employment contract and can include looking after children. See our blog post on how to hire one.
Nannies may also work for two families (garde partagée), splitting his or her time between them. For example, some families choose to have their shared nanny look after both sets of kids, alternating between the two homes on a weekly basis.
I hope that this blog post helps you better understand the many great childcare options available to you in France and that it hasn’t left you even more confused! We want to make sure families make the right choices, and we’d love to accompany you in that process. Book a call with us to discuss your needs and priorities, and we can take it from there.
**Caf Caisse d’Allocation Familiale works to improve housing conditions and the living environment of families. It pays housing assistance directly to families and grants loans to those with modest incomes, to help them settle in, equip themselves and improve their habitat. It especially helps families with children under 6 years old.
Hi! I’m Arelys, Originally from Guatemala now happily living in the western suburbs of Paris.
As an Expat family we have moved eight times between five countries over three continents.
I know all about the joys and challenges of international relocations with the little ones.
I’m here to make your move as smooth as possible.
Let’s get you the best possible start to your new life in France.