Childcare in Luxembourg: Understanding the ‘Cheque Service’ system

henry paintingI’m pleased to report that I was really impressed with the couple of local crèches that I visited. One in particular stood out and it’s the one we’ll be applying to for Oscar. These things are always very personal and every parent places different criteria upon how they judge a childcare provider. I didn’t really have any specifics but I hoped i’d just feel it in my bones if it was ‘right’.

The largest number of children allowed in a class is something like 11, but the absolute maximum I saw was 8 (and so not surprising there are wait lists to get into some of the more popular crèches in town). I had to ask where all the kids were! In Hong Kong it was common to cram the absolute maximum allowed by law (even in expensive private crèches and kindergartens), and usually go a few over and hope parents wouldn’t notice.  Money was the motivating factor, not educating children.

The particular crèche I liked had a lovely philosophy (I think she described it as a ‘Pedagogical approach’). All the staff (including assistants) have teaching qualifications (not compulsory in Luxembourg as far as I know). The food they give to the children is all organic and way better than what he eats now, they use as few chemicals as possible, and even the napppies (diapers) they use are the type which have no print on. Let me be clear, this is not how I run things at home. I try up to a point, but I’m just too flaky and have a tendency, like many frazzled parents, to go with the path of least resistance, and sometimes, that has stuff like golden arches and a happy meal at the end of it. But if I’m going to choose between a crèche that has better principles than I do, and one that doesn’t, well then it makes sense to go with the one that goes the distance with this type of stuff.

I have been assured through many conversations with parents and people involved with education here, that Oscar will likely be just fine picking up the various languages. He will not actually be in the crèche for long as he will go to pre-school in September (not compulsory but we will opt for that) and so he’ll get a bit of grounding in French and then on to Luxembourgish.

But I’m guessing you probably want to hear more about the system itself and how the ‘Cheque Service’ scheme actually works right?

‘Cheque Service’ explained…kind of

Ok, in a nutshell, you get money towards childcare costs. I’m going to try to explain it as best I can. (Please feel free to jump in folks on the comments page if I’ve got it wrong). Even high wage earners get something towards the costs of childcare. There are government run crèches and private ones. The government sets the ceiling for what a crèche can charge (i think it’s €7.50 per hour maximum, lunch is extra). Depending on your household income, and the number of children you have, you are eligible for assistance towards the costs of childcare. The beauty of this system is that you, the parents, have choice. You are not limited to a handful of crummy, oversubscribed crèches which operate within a welfare type system. Nope, most crèches accept the Cheque Service ‘vouchers’, and their rates will not be more than €7.50 per hour (some are in fact less).

So, once you’ve chosen a crèche (or before – you can sign up for the service prior to deciding. It is not contingent upon a crèche accepting you), you will then need to go to your local commune’s administrative offices to sign up for the ‘Cheque Service’ vouchers. You’ll need a recent payslip (Gareth took his last 3 payslips along, but one should suffice if you’re new). If you both work, you’ll both need to take both payslips. They enter your details into the system and the computer will mull these over, and calculate how much assistance you will be entitled to receive. You’ll then receive a couple of print-outs of your ‘contract’ (one official French version and, if necessary, an English version) detailing the amount you will be required to pay. Your allowance per hour for the first 24 hours of childcare required per week will be more generous, but the assistance available per hour for the subsequent 26-60 hours is less (see below for example). You’ll need to sign the French version, for their records. You also take a copy away for your records for copying and to give to the crèche/s (some children go to a different crèche in the morning and afternoon, for instance). You will also receive a ‘Cheque Service’ membership card, which you’ll need to put somewhere safe! The ‘contract’ lasts for one year and you will be notified by the commune when it’s time to renew/review.

The costs

Ok, so this is the bit I’m a tad hazy on because naturally, it’s essentially means tested and will differ depending on the birth order of the child and your household income. It’s also dependent on how much the crèche charges per hour. I’ve pulled this chart from the government website and translated it using Google Translate so the formatting is a bit skewy in places. It’s the revised 2013 figures for parental contributions (just concentrate on the ‘New Tariff Service columns):

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To understand this chart, you’ll need to know what the minimum social wage is. That’s easy, it’s EUR 1,846.51 per month (see here for confirmation). So if your regular household income is greater than 4 X the minimum wage, but less than 4.5 X the minimum wage, and you are applying for your second born child, you will pay €2.70 per hour for the first 24 hours of education per week, and from 25-60 hours you will pay more (alas the chart doesn’t show this, but looking at our contract it’s about 1.5 X the amount you pay per hour for the first 24 hours – so in this example, that would be just over €4 per hour for those hours over the first 24 (i.e. between 25-60 hours). So if you wanted to put your second child into a crèche for 5 half days per week (4 hours per day) that would be €234 per month excluding meals. Interestingly our contract says we will pay only €2 per meal, not the ‘new’ rate of €3 as stated on the above chart (I was quoted €2 by the crèche as well). I’ll be checking it, but either way, you’d be paying roughly around €50 per month for food if you opted for them to have lunch at crèche 5 days per week. So that’s around €280 per month all in for a crèche charging the highest fees allowed. Even if you earn in excess of 4.5 X the minimum wage, the most you will pay is €4 per hour, for your first child.

To give you some context relevant to my own situation, we were paying quadruple for Henry at the same age at Kindergarten in Hong Kong compared to what we will pay here for the same hours (with much bigger class sizes and no meals included and no outside facilities). That’s a vast difference, and why I can’t help but love this system, on face value at least.

Another plus point seems to be that the crèches here are fairly flexible and, for instance,  if your child goes to pre-school, but you both work full-time, there are crèches which have minibuses and will pick up kids from the local pre-school to mind them until you finish work. They also seem to be quite flexible as to what days your child attends, within reason, and aren’t rigid if you have a meeting or wish to swap a day etc. The whole thing seems very geared up for working parents, and with nearly half of the country’s parents availing themselves of childcare facilities, it’s not surprising.

I’ll update you as to the application process and how all that proceeds, but for now, I’m really liking what I see. Fingers crossed we can get him in to the one we like…