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Staff shortages in Dutch-speaking daycares prompt parents to set up emergency creche in minister's office

07:02 16/09/2022

The ongoing staff shortages in Dutch-speaking creches have become so severe that parents have come together to create an emergency creche in the office of minister Hilde Crevits, hoping to raise awareness about the issue.

“It is time for politicians to listen to the child carers and take steps,” said Linde Smeets, one of the parents involved in the symbolic protest.

Smeets and others want more carers per child in order to relieve high workloads, which they say have made the career unattractive, thus perpetuating the cycle of staff shortages.

“It is increasingly difficult to motivate young people [to join the profession],” noted An Jacobs, a teacher at the Victor Horta school in Evere.

Creche workers do far more than simply watch children while their parents work. They also fulfill a pedagogical role and stimulate child development, which requires more skill, knowledge and preparation than a babysitter.

While the profession has evolved over the years to meet greater and more complex demands, the training has remained the same for 15 years.

While the emergency creche protest was sparked by the partial closure of the De Zinnekes nursery in the Brussels neighbourhood of Laeken, the problem of staff shortages is hardly limited to that creche alone, nor to only the capital region.

Flanders is experiencing similar issues. When minister Crevits spoke with the protesting parents in her office, she said that “some 850 people are currently being trained and will be able to be assigned very soon” to help with staff shortages.

“I hope that we can offer concrete solutions in the government's September statement and thus give the sector a future,” Crevits said.

Dutch-speaking creches in Brussels have had to implement partial closures due to their lack of staff.

“We are allowed to attend the [De Zinnekes] crèche every third week until further notice,” one parent explained. “The other weeks we try to find a solution with the grandparents or with other parents who alternate.”

Bruno De Lille, director of the Sint Goedele association which oversees 13 Dutch-speaking childcare facilities in the capital, including De Zinnekes, said the staffing situation has proved challenging.

“We had to take difficult measures for ourselves and especially for the parents,” De Lille said.

“In another creche we had to limit the opening hours. Instead of 7.00 to 18.00, it is now open from 8.00 to 17.00 to ensure that there are enough carers for the number of children.”

De Lille also cited the difficulties of a language barrier, saying that while creches require a basic level of Dutch, not every staff member has that.

“We are currently considering a way of teaching them Dutch in the workplace,” said De Lille.

Flemish MP Hannelore Goeman agreed with others that the profession has become less attractive over the years due to its heavy workload and low wages, in particular in the capital.

“I think that the workload in the Dutch-speaking crèches in Brussels is just too high,” Goeman said.

“The Flemish standard is one carer per eight or nine children. I find it almost inhumane. The staff only have time to change the nappies or feed the children. By way of comparison, on the French-speaking side, the ONE has set the limit at one carer for every seven children.”

Minister Bénédicte Linard in the French-speaking parliament said that they, too, are experiencing a shortage.

“The difficulty of recruiting carers is also real in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in the early childhood sector, but not as serious as in Flanders or France,” Linard said.

“There are some nuances and disparities, as well. Some territories are more affected, like Brussels. And some sectors are more affected, such as home-based carers.”

Written by Helen Lyons