Editor's Note: This article was written by an expat mother residing in the canton of Zurich. As such, this information is mostly applicable to the German speaking region of Switzerland.
If you are a parent, I’m sure you’ve often felt that you would move mountains for your child. A simple look into their innocent eyes is enough to get you to fight the world for them. The love of a parent can often complicate things, especially when you feel like it’s hard to find the best solution for your child. The right childcare is one of those things that feel like moving a mountain.
Finding someone to take care of your children is always a tall order
You want them to be more than safe – you want them to feel understood, taken care of, well-fed, intellectually stimulated, and…so much more. As if all of the pre-requisites weren’t enough, finding childcare in a completely foreign country is even harder.
How can you even begin to screen candidates or places that offer childcare? How do you know what the local standards are – and if they are right for you and your child? Should you go local or international? I asked myself all these questions (and, oh!, so many others). Then I started to look into the matter more seriously. The fact that most of the information available through local websites was in far-from-easy levels of the local languages (e.g. German, French, Italian) can make finding childcare very difficult.
But first things first.
What is the Swiss take on childcare?
Until recently, working mums in Switzerland faced a serious stigma at their jobs, likely due to preoccupation – not with their kids, but rather with childcare issues while at work. Childcare in the past was exceedingly expensive and difficult to find, and it had strict rules regarding pick-up times. More often than not, there were long, complicated waitlists. That contributed to tense moments at work…obviously.
Then there’s the obvious budgeting issue. Financial output equaled quality care. And that was far from being fair. Side note, the city of Zurich makes subsidized places available in many facilities, and so do other communes.
Thus began the hunt for a system that would bring the best care at the most reasonable fee. So as I created my own experiences – with fun, frets, and fumes – I also listed out the options I discovered.
Crèches/ Kita (Daycare)
One of the most popular choices for your (very) young ones is a crèche or a Kindertagesstätte - Kita. Crèches take care of children aged 0 to 4 and they are typically open from 7am to 6:30pm, Monday to Friday.
There is a catch, though: since they are affordable, safe places for young kids, they are also very, very popular. Depending on where in Switzerland you live, you might even need to sign up for the waiting list.
If you have not yet arrived in Switzerland, I suggest you start researching crèches in your destination area as soon as possible. If you’re already here and your local crèche is full, don’t fret. One of the alternatives below will definitely suit you and your child until a spot opens up.
Associations, or Vereine, or Commune
Head to your Gemeinde (township or municipal office) and ask for the contact details for a Tagesmutter Verein (Daycare Mothers' Association or Association des Mamans de Jour). This association will connect you with and accompany you to meet the most suitable daycare ladies in the proximity of your home.
Typically, a Tagesmutter or Maman de Jour is a woman who herself has children at home or older children. All you need to do is drop your child at her place with the basic necessities (diapers, a set of clothes, medicines if needed), and pick him or her up after work.
The Tagesmutter or Maman de Jour is supposed to provide your child with basic care, enough mental stimulation without plonking him or her in front of the television, rest at noon, a midmorning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and even dinner, if necessary. Time duration is flexible but needs to be set in advance.
I found this option fantastic and reasonable. The best part was that I could opt for one visiting session, followed by one or two trial days before making a decision. And I could go for spot-checks as often as I wanted.
It’s pretty much like selecting your own babysitter, except with better rules. All the Tagesmutters undergo regular training and they are examined and vetted by the Gemeinde.
Rules in Switzerland are quite strict, so an au pair could be a slightly cumbersome solution, since you will have to work around work permit issues and take on health insurance and AHV/AVS (social security) responsibilities. But for the long term, it might be reasonable, especially if you can find a perfect fit for your child.
First, check out whether or not you are eligible to bring an au pair into the country. Visit this website or speak to the local authorities.
Make sure you do not hire anyone who hesitates to provide references. However reasonable the deal, cross check references, get criminal record clearances, and do a background check.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, I'd say a massive degree of caution is needed. I almost hired someone, but I wasn't quite comfortable, as something seemed not quite right. Fortunately, I went with my gut and decided to not hire her. A few days later, I happened to show her picture to a colleague while discussing childcare options. He smiled and revealed to me that – back in his heyday – this "au-pair candidate" had been an adult model in his country. That was the end of my au pair chapter.
Praktikantin or Stagiaire
These are young women being trained for childcare and related fields (such as kindergarten teachers, a caretaker of children at a hospital or an institute, etc.). They are on the lookout for practical experience, as an internship is part of their training.
Rest assured that the quality will be great, but the apprentice won't be able to work full time, because she will also have to attend school and report back to her theoretical sessions. However, you could look at this option for the short-term or ad-hoc until the right childcare system is found and established. An ideal website for investigating this option is this one.
Here again, check with your local commune. They will direct you to the babysitters training authority or give you a list of numbers, along with the name and age of the babysitters.
These sitters charge a rate starting at CHF 8 per hour or a flat rate of approximately CHF 36-40 for an evening or a block of time. However, they are usually young – 13- to 17-year-olds – but are trained by the Red Cross. This option is for your date nights, evening dinners and social events since, typically, these are schoolchildren, trained, and ready to earn their pocket money by way of babysitting.
These are students looking for odd jobs to make ends meet. Needless to say, they won't be available on all days, throughout the day. But it's a good option if you work part-time or from a home office.
Officially speaking, there is no such term as granny-nanny. But this worked well for me. You can place an ad in your local paper or at the local stores for an elderly person to come to your home and look after your child, play, read out stories and ensure good food is cooked while you're out at work.
This person should be able to keep the home tidy and organized while looking after your children (including sending them to school, etc.). Yes, sometimes thinking outside the box pays out.
This is a common concept within small neighborhoods among part-time working mums, who hook up with other mums in the neighborhood. When one mother goes for her part-time job, you volunteer to take care of her children; and on your days of work, you have a similar arrangement with her. Simple. It's a symbiotic relationship of sorts.
So go ahead, check out your options. Trial and error is, to some extent, the way of the world!
Do you need more tips on how to find childcare in Switzerland?
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