I was looking at your website and I see that the BCT in Belgium was founded 35 years ago. Can you explain what the Brussels Childbirth Trust is and who are your members?
The Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT) was started 35 years ago by a group of British ex-pats and works along similar lines to the National Childbirth Trust in Britain. Primarily we provide pre-natal and post-natal courses, but our activities have now expanded into more of a networking and communal role with coffee mornings and music and dance groups. We have also expanded outside Brussels with groups in e.g. Leuven/Leefdaal/Everburg, Ghent and Liege. In fact groups are set up wherever and whenever people see a need and are willing to set up a group. One of the more recent groups has been a divorced parents group. Divorced parents often feel very lonely and rather vulnerable, and many end up going back to their original country, but this group provides support for its members in Belgium. Although the BCT works in English, our members are drawn from all over the world. The BCT now comprises of about 1300 families which represent over 70 nationalities.
We also have a library at our main venue Imagine. It is a great resource with around 500 books and DVD’s on pregnancy, parenting and child development. Recent projects like our Facebook page and group are making sharing info easier. Members with problems can also consult the Experiences Register coordinator. Our Info team furthermore collects members’ recommendations for e.g. hospitals, doctors, crèches and this information is very valuable and reassuring to newcomers.
Can you give us some sense of how your membership has changed since the BCT was founded? Do you think parenting in Brussels is easier now?
Technology Coordinator (Vice President) of the BCT
Originally the BCT was founded by British people, and one of our original members (Jill Hawkes) is still on the board, but the organisation is now much more cosmopolitan, and last year 60% of the members were from non-English speaking countries. Biggest changes are that many of the new member families are from Eastern Europe and increasing number of women go back to work after maternity leave.
Parenting has changed, and it is not necessarily easier, though the general feeling is that Belgium is a good place for childcare. Ex-pats, usually in Belgium without family and knowing no one when they arrive, certainly need a support network. Usually the couple or family arrives in Belgium because of a new job. Mostly only one of the couple (often the man) has a job and the partner/spouse needs to learn the language, take care of the home and children. The non-employed partner usually has no social network which can be a big drawback in finding a job of their own, and the BCT helps them to find friends and some very important social support.
Whilst BCT parents are often not native French or Dutch speakers, many of our children attend French or Dutch/Flemish speaking nurseries. Our children often use the nursery language as their ‘play’ language, and happily switch between home and play languages.
Do you only accept parents or do you also have a grandparents group? What about step-parents and adoptive parents – do such people have separate groups or not?
Membership of BCT is per family, and this includes the child’s carers. In fact groups are seeing an increase in attendance by grandparents and nannies/au pairs. We have social and support networks for e.g. adoptive families and single parents, and there is also an IVF network and a Twins Club. Many groups are aimed at the under-5’s and most families do leave once their children have started school. However there are several ‘Lifers’ groups for long-term members and another one for families with older children, and some after-school meetings for older children. Some people continue as volunteers even after their own family has grown up.
Do you find that most of the people involved in the BCT are mothers or are Dads equally active? Do you have any special activities for fathers?
BCT meetings are still mainly female, simply because it’s still mainly the mums who stay at home, at least for a while, when a new baby arrives. Dads do try to be involved but most are working during the day. Some groups organise evening and family activities. There is a dads support group and a very popular soccer workout group. Also some dads get involved with us as volunteers on a project basis e.g. IT consulting, graphic design, photography or they help at our various events. This is of course invaluable support for us and makes the BCT a concern of the heart for both parents after all.
One of the problems I found raising a family in Belgium was that our wider family were far away and not available for baby-sitting (or looking after my kids in the holidays). Do you have any schemes to cover these needs?
Although the BCT doesn’t organise anything in this regard, our groups are very inventive. Some local groups, for instance, have set up baby-sitting circles amongst themselves to support each other. Our playgroups may organise sessions during the holidays, depending on member availability. In addition, the BCT is a huge information resource regarding all aspects of family life in Belgium. Whether it’s our Information team that holds databases of crèches and general info on childminding or other members who recommend stages, crèches, babysitters etc.
We can surely help our members to navigate their way through the jungle of childminding in Belgium. And some members have even found their ‘Home from Home’ support network within the BCT.
I think the most difficult time for a parent is when the little ones are sick. Do you know of any organisations offering home care for sick children whose parents still need to go to work?
If children are sick we usually recommend contacting the mutuality with whom they are registered, who often have nurses available. Sometimes through the BCT you know a Mum from the local group who can help in an emergency, either with a sick child or with taking another child to or from school or day-care. Some of our local groups even set up cooking support for several weeks for families with an ill child at hospital and younger ones at home. As I said, our members are more or less all in the same situation and the ideas of how best to support each other are endless.
I know you already have a printed magazine – what sort of subjects do you cover? I see you are also going to have an online newsletter – how do you think this will be different?
Our magazine ‘Small Talk’ is very highly popular with our membership. One reason for it is surely that all contributions come from our members. In a nutshell, Small Talk provides a window into family life in Belgium. We’re featuring topics such as pregnancy and birth, life with a baby but also many aspects of parenting from the very young age up to teenage age. You can find latest information about services and events for families in Belgium. There are life style articles, book reviews, craft ideas for kids, recipes, the very popular members’ birthday greetings and of course news about the BCT, our activities and groups, services and the events agenda. A whole column is dedicated to our volunteers with regular interviews, special thanks and welcomes on roles and projects and current volunteer opportunities within the BCT.
The new e-newsletter will be aimed at non-members, partner organisations, companies and whoever is interested in the BCT as an organisation. We’re going to inform about our public events and activities, organisational news and will probably feature specific topics that we’re dealing with and that might be of interest to others, too. This could be parenting, new media but also volunteering. The last is obviously part of our identity as an organisation and is therefore of special importance for us.
I notice you have workshops and courses. What sort of subjects do you cover? Are these only for members or can non-members also attend?
Besides our prenatal courses that we are running throughout the year, we offer information sessions for people who are looking for general info about pregnancy and birth in Belgium. These ‘Pregnancy in Belgium evenings’ are open to everyone.
For our members we run regular ‘BCT Talks’ on family and life-related topics. This can be one-off events or a series of sessions. Experts in their fields present and discuss a subject. Recent talks were held on topics such as parenting, financial planning, business start-ups and introduction to Emotional Freedom Techniques.