If you are considering childcare for your baby the choice of options available can seem overwhelming. In fact, once you have decided on a few key questions, your choice becomes much more manageable.
The first question is to think about what your requirements are in terms of hours of childcare required and whether these will be a fixed pattern of hours. You also need to consider location too, and the proximity of the childcare to your home and work. Remember that your choice of childcare needs to work with your family and lifestyle. For example, if you work an irregular shift pattern you will need to find a provider who can offer you flexibility around hours. Alternatively, if you have other children to drop off at school you will need to look for an early opening time.
Types of childcare provider:
This is a short term flexible option, and is normally linked to an activity, such as at a leisure centre or shopping mall. It’s normally paid for on an hourly basis. Creches need to register with Ofsted if they offer more than four hours care across more than fourteen weeks in a year.
These offer the most comprehensive options for care, and normally take children from six weeks old until school age. They will off full time and part time options but you are likely to need to stick to a daily or weekly pattern to keep your child’s ‘place’. Day nurseries tend to offer cooked food, nappies and milk as part of the package. With the majority of day nurseries, you will need to pay for bank holidays, plus any days off for illness or holidays (even if you have given notice). Day nurseries are registered with Ofsted and inspected on a regular basis.
Childminders provide care in their own home for a small group of children. They can usually offer more flexibility than nurseries or pre-schools around timings of providing care, but some are term time only. Check carefully what the arrangements are if your childminder is ill or going on holiday, as you may be left trying to find short term cover. Like day nurseries, childminders are Ofsted registered. This means that they can offer the 15 and 30 hours free childcare as well as accepting payment by childcare vouchers.
These are similar to nurseries but will take children from two or three years up to school age. Most pre-schools are attached or aligned to a specific primary school, so make a great option for building friendships before school. Some pre-schools offer term time childcare only. Like day nurseries, pre-schools are Ofsted registered.
A nanny will offer a personal service to one child or one family. They can live with the family or attend on a daily basis, and many nannies will come on family holidays to provide childcare. Nannies are not required to be Ofsted registered but they can voluntarily register which means they offer a certain standard of care. This also means that you can pay with childcare vouchers. Nannies will be directly employed by you, unless they are supplied through an agency. This means that you will need a legal employment contract and you are responsible for ensuring that the correct rates of National Insurance and pension contributions are paid.
When you are interviewing for a nanny, check what their plans are for social interaction, especially if they can not drive. Your child needs to be able to mix with other children on a regular basis. As with childminders, you will need a plan in place to cover any illness or annual leave that your nanny takes (which they are entitled to)
Standards and Payments
All Ofsted registered providers follow the Early Years Foundation Stage programme which is set by the Government. This lays out the standards of educational activities that your child will follow, and be informally reviewed against, in preparation for their transition to school.
Payment for childcare is normally made in advance, and some practitioners will require a deposit to secure your place. If a provider is registered with Ofsted it means that you can pay with the childcare vouchers available through employers, or the new Tax Free Childcare scheme offered by the Government. This is in addition to claiming for the 15 or 30 hours free childcare that all 3-4 year olds, and some 2 year olds are entitled to.
With the 15 and 30 hours entitlement, childcare providers are only funded for these hours during term time. Some providers will average the number of hours out over a full year, so the amount you receive free is less than 15 or 30 hours in a week. You may be restricted in when you can use your free entitlement or have to pay for additional items, for example paying for lunch on a ‘free’ day. This is because the amount of funding that the providers receive is not sufficient to fully cover their costs.
The next question to review is whether your child has any additional needs. This includes educational or physical aspects as well as dietary and medical requirements. Some providers may not be able to accommodate certain conditions or the layout may not be appropriate.
Once you have narrowed down your choice of providers, it’s important to make multiple visits. Even if you really like the first location you go to see, it’s a good idea to have a comparison so that you can be really confident of your choice.
If you have had your child’s name on a waiting list, make sure that you visit again closer to when you will be starting there. This will cover off any staff or management changes. It can be useful to visit with your child too, both to gauge your child’s reaction but also to see how staff and other children respond. Have a list of questions prepared that you can either ask in advance or at the visit:
What’s included within the charge eg. milk for babies / nappies etc.
What are the arrangements for providing food and drinks during the day
If food is prepared on the premises, what is the food hygiene rating
Can they accommodate any special dietary requirements
What will you need to send your child in with each day eg. water bottle / change of clothes
What ratios are observed in each area (Ofsted give recommended guidelines)
Will your child be allocated a keyworker
What level of information is given at handover at the end of the day eg. verbal / written
What is their safeguarding policy
How do they deal with cultural sensitivity
It’s also a good idea to get a feel for what a typical day or session would include. This is so you can see whether there will be a range of activities, including those that you know that your child will enjoy. You can also see how much time is spent outside and with children of other age groups. Although it does vary between practitioners, many pre-schools and day nursery will promote ‘free play’ where your child can choose what they want to do.
Most providers will offer at least one settling in session. This is where the staff or individual looking after your child can meet them in a 1:1 setting, get to know them and understand about your family life too. There may also be an opportunity for you to leave your child in their care for a short time, which will be a great test for both of you!
Once you have made your final decision, it can be useful to have a back-up plan in place, in case you are delayed for pick ups or your child can not attend due to illness. This may involve other family members or perhaps other parents using the same provider. Check what the policies are for different types of illnesses, as many settings may ask you to pick your child up or keep them at home for certain symptoms (especially contagious ones).
The Choice is Yours
You will know what is right for your child, you and your family. It can be helpful to get recommendations from friends and family but be mindful that every child is different. There is no pressure on you to pick the most expensive provider or one that offers extras that you’re not going to use. Go with your instinct! There is also no pressure to stay with a provider if it’s not working out, but do make sure you’ve given the situation enough time. Returning back to work and leaving your child away from home is very difficult for parents, so take your emotions into account too.