After the spectacular baby booms of the 60s and 70s, it is incredible to think that Spain now has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, with just 1.4 children born per family. Catalonia hovers just above the national average but over the past few years, the figures have remained fairly static (Gencat). The local population, however, is now being boosted not only by an increase in immigration - around one in ten people living in Catalonia is now foreign - but also due to those moving to Catalonia from abroad choosing to settle and have families.
Given this is a fairly recent phenomenon, even in large cosmopolitan cities such as the region's capital, Barcelona, there has been surprisingly little help for parents from the International Community with regards to the likes of services, childcare and education - partly due to the fact that most official documents are in Catalan, when most foreigners moving to Catalonia tend to speak Spanish and also because of a paucity of networking groups for parents to share information and seek advice. But as the foreign population continues to grow, the situation is slowly changing as the international community begins to take the situation into their own hands.
Lorna Bode, has lived in Sitges, a town with a large international contingent, for 2 years and found settling in Catalonia with her two children unnecessarily stressful and time-consuming,
"Researching private Catalan nurseries from scratch for my 2 year old was really hard as our language was limited and I did not know other parents at that time. A lack of general knowledge about how life is set up for children was really hard. All foreign parents are in the same boat. I discovered that you really have to throw yourself into it and find out for yourself. Choosing any type of care for your children is such a personal choice that you do need to visit nurseries and schools yourself as well as trying to find people who already have children in school here."
The situation is further exarcerbated for foreign parents living away from the main cities and towns. Helen Scott, who is 35 lives in Begur, a medeival town on the Costa Brava. Despite being very happy with the childcare she has chosen for her 3 year old daughter, she found the language issue a huge barrier
"I wished I had known how widely the Catalan language is spoken here and maybe studied a bit before coming here, but certainly so it hadn't been such a shock to me. In hindsight I was incredibly ignorant. I do worry about the education, there is no room for error. I have to let go of my anxiety and trust the system! I feel strongly that the children here should be taught in Castellano as well as Catalan, without getting into political debate etc, it just seems so silly not to take this fantastic opportunity "
For two mothers living in Catalonia, the idea of simply 'muddling' through to ensure a decent education for their children was unacceptable. The website www.mumabroad.com is the brainchild of Marketing Director Rebecca Laidlaw and TV Presenter Carrie Frais and not only offers sound advice on schools but also gives a detailed, informative guide to everything from pregnancy & post-partum services, child-friendly restaurants & shops to day-trips and family-friendly holidays.
"There seems to be so much conflicting information and advice, we felt it necessary to create an online community where people could recommend anything from a nursery to their favourite beach" says Rebecca "Almost everything on our site goes by recommendation, which gives a personal touch and, we hope, encourages interaction between parents".
The site is expanding by the day with increasing numbers of contributions and recommendations from parents across Catalonia.
"We hope that we can encourage new and prospective parents from the International Community to feel less daunted about bringing up kids in this fantastic region" says Rebecca " and to show those thinking of making the move, with a little bit of help, anyone can do it. We have also added a section for family-friendly holidays in Catalunya including some well hidden secrets such as Catalan ski resorts and beautiful child-friendly beaches and coves along the Costa Dorada and Costa Brava"
To read the full interviews with Lorna and Helen visit http://www.mumabroad.com