Finding the right type of childcare to suit you and your child is crucial, especially when there is so much to consider. There are different options available in every area - what's important is to give yourself plenty of time to research them.
Families Information Direct (FiND) can provide you with details of local registered childcare. Have a list of questions ready to ask when you visit prospective childcarers - everything from opening hours to taking up references.
Here are our tips to get you started, along with essential safety checks and how to make sure the transition for you and your child goes smoothly.
Don't leave it until the last minute. Even if you're not yet ready for childcare, give yourself plenty of time to make your choice. If it's popular, expect long waiting lists; interviewing and hiring a nanny or home childcarer can take months.
Do research the options. Call FiND for a list of registered childcare in your community. Jot down your basic requirements (e.g. opening hours, costs, location), and make those your first questions when you phone around. You will immediately discount some of them.
Do think about your child's age and personality. This is particularly advisable when it comes to babies and young children, who need a close one-on-one relationship to enable them to thrive. You need to be confident that you have found a situation where your child can form an attachment to a consistent carer who will respond sensitively and consistently to your child. You know your child best, so trust your own judgement.
Do shop around. Aim to visit at least two or three places to meet the carer and compare what's on offer. Make a formal appointment when you can see how the children behave, and take a list of prepared questions. Where possible (for instance, at nurseries) drop in randomly to see exactly what you walk into.
Do think about combining care. For example, a childminder linked to a pre-school or nursery class. This can be particularly helpful if you have children of different ages and you want them to be cared for together, or if you want your child to benefit from home-based care but to have the experience of group care when they are ready.
Do check references. This is vital. Most carers will be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about their work, so take up references for peace of mind.
Don't feel guilty about double checks. Go back for a second or third look once you've narrowed down your choices. This gives you the time to confirm that they meet all your requirements. Some carers will agree to trial runs before a formal agreement, to see how it's going to work out.
Do get it all in writing once a decision has been made. See Contracts section below.
What to look out for - your checklist...
Qualifications: What training and experience does the carer / team have?
Environment: Is it secure, does it feel nurturing, are there pets, is it non-smoking? Enough space?
Diet: What's on the menu? Fresh fruit and veg? Access to water when they want it? Cater for special requirements?
Supervision: Who supervises and how? Staff-to-child ratio?
Emotional care: What are the routines? Is there flexibility? How is difficult behaviour dealt with? There should be a written policy. Are staff warm, joining in, showing affection?
Equipment: Is it creative, varied, plentiful, of a high standard? Do displays show different cultures in a positive way? What about physical activities? Is the outside space safe and secure? If not, where will they play in fresh air?
Health habits: Are the toilets and basins clean? and the facilities for potty training / baby changing?
Expectations: Lay all yours out, such as your working hours, time keeping, meal preparation, washing, baby-sitting. Policy on late pick-ups?
Safety: What happens in the case of an emergency or accident? What safety procedures are in place?
Inspection reports: Can you see a copy of the latest OfSTED inspection report?
Contracts - What should be included
If you're signing:
- The details of the retainer fee or deposit to secure your child's place
- The amount you pay, when you pay and what it covers (e.g. nappies, food, days out) - and importantly anything it doesn't cover
- The hours / days your child will attend
- Any days, e.g. public holidays that the place isn't available
- Whether you pay when your child is absent including holiday and sickness arrangements
- Arrangements for terminating the place
- You should where possible set up one agreement that covers the settling-in period and then set up another contract following this. This is so that if your child doesn't settle or one of you realise that the arrangement isn't going to work you are not tied into too long a notice period.
If you're hiring:
- A job description and hours of work
- Salary and agreed method of payment
- Length of employment (e.g. rolling 6 month contract) and notice period
- Details of sick / holiday pay, expenses
For a printed version of this leaflet please contact FiND.
This information has been adapted from the DfES Booklet 'Looking for Childcare'.