The multitude of childcare options offered to parents in France lets them choose the arrangement which suits them best. Over the last 20 years, the range of childcare options has diversified. Direct financial assistance to encourage childcare at home has greatly increased. The availability of care and such assistance are all the more necessary since there are more working mothers in France than in any other country in the European Union: according to INSEE, about 76 percent of French women between 25 and 49 years old work.
Infants are usually cared for in the home by one of their parents. This is made possible by three kinds of parental leave:
Maternity leave (introduced in 1909): the mother receives 100 percent of her salary for a period of 6 weeks prior to the birth of her baby and for a further 10 weeks afterwards.
Paternity leave (introduced in 2002): the father is given 11 days of leave on full pay so that he, like the child’s mother, can spend time with his newborn baby during the first weeks of his/her life.
Parental leave (introduced in 1997): this is available to parents who have been employees of a company for at least one year. The father and/or mother can take a maximum of three years’ unpaid leave (full-time or part-time). At the end of this period of leave, their employer is required to take them back under the same terms as before.
After this initial period, parents of children aged 2 months to 3 years (and, in exceptional cases, up to 6 years) have publicly subsidized individual or collective care at their disposal.
Often known as nourrices, childminders look after between one and three children, aged between 2½ months and 3 years, in their own homes. They can be independent or attached to a crèche. In order to practice legally, the childminder must be registered by the local departmental mother and childcare services. They are registered for a period of five years.
Crèches care for children aged 2½ months to 3 years of families living in the commune (the smallest administrative subdivision in France) or the children of the company’s employees. The staff are headed by a qualified nursery nurse who supervises the assistants and caregivers. The parents’ financial contribution varies according to the regions and their salaries. The Family Allowance Fund has proposed a scale ranging between 8 and 12 percent of the family’s income. These crèches vary in size, catering for between 20 and 60 children. It should be stated that crèches experience a very high demand for enrollment: mothers generally pre-register at the beginning of their pregnancy.
Private or public day nurseries cater to children from 2 to 6 years old on a part-time or occasional basis. The staff consist of a nursery nurse, a nurse or a qualified caregiver, and nursery assistants. The price is calculated according to parental income and the number of hours the child spends at the nursery.
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