How to choose the right Childcare for your Children
Childcare will forever be a contentious issue. When is too soon? Is there ever a perfect age? Are you a bad mother for leaving him/her/them? Aside from all of this even self-employed mums and dads find themselves needing childcare and getting it right can be integral to the success of business as well as the family’s happiness.
There are plenty of different childcare options for under school-age children in the UK. It’s an expense we’d probably like to live without but as work at home parents, sometimes something has got to give. Here we’re looking at everything you need to choose the right childcare for your children.
Points to remember
Before we get into it there are a few points that need to be remembered, to ensure the search for the right childcare doesn’t turn into a hysterical battle against stress and separation anxiety:
- Studies are everything. You may have read that children who go to nurseries are damaged for life or child-minded children are disadvantaged in some other way. You can find something that proves almost anything and so don’t rely on studies if your gut tells you something different.
- Don’t trust everything you read. On the same line you may see stories in the media which suggest that putting your children into a childcare setting will be detrimental. They may even quote from a study but in most instances they exaggerate. A tiny test group will be exaggerated into ‘All children in nursery at risk’ and it’s just scare-mongering. Do what you have to do.
- Quality is more important than the form of childcare you opt for. You may have had your heart set on a childminder but find a nursery which is simply perfect for your child – go with it.
- It’s your family no one else’s. The childcare you choose needs to fit into your family and that solution will be unique to you. Recommendations from elsewhere, though well meaning, may not be right for your circumstances.
- There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work. There’s equally nothing wrong with not wanting to work or having to work out of necessity. In any of these circumstances it’s your right to consider childcare for your children without guilt.
- Childcare is a joint decision where two parents are present – decide together.
- There is no perfect age. Your child going at 4 months or 3 years into childcare will be tough putting it off may make it tougher.
Types of Childcare
The two leading types of childcare in the UK are day nurseries and individual childminders. There are other options but these are the main two.
Day nurseries are run by either the local authority or private companies. They are registered and inspected by Ofsted and they generally welcome babies from 3-4 months to 4 years.
Nurseries provide a lively and exciting social environment for your children to grow in. They provide the advantage of wide socialisation and several staff mean keeping your child home due to staff sickness is very unlikely. Disadvantages can be high staff turnover which you should check with the individual nurseries you’re looking into and strict opening/closing times which can come with hefty fines if you’re late. Nurseries are often touted as breeding grounds for sickness bugs and viruses but you can just think of this to preparation for school.
A childminder will look after your child in their own home. They too are registered and Ofsted inspected and provide care and learning support throughout the time they are looking after your child. A single registered childminder can care for a maximum of six children under eight at one time with no more than three under the age of five.
The advantages of choosing a childminder is that many of them are self-employed mums and dads themselves so you’ve already got a connection. Similarly, your child avoids the shock of being surrounded by a huge number of new children but still gets the social interaction of a small group. Childminders tend to be more flexible with their hours and you may even get a babysitter added into the deal.
The main disadvantages include having to find cover if your childminder or their children is ill and there is also the worry that if the childminder does have their own children at home they may be treated differently. This is usually an anxious worry rather than reality and you can always discuss your concerns with the childminder.
Other childcare options include nannies and au pairs who look after your children from within your own home. This could be possible if you’re working from home but it may be a little difficult!
To find local childcare the most useful service is the council’s Family Information service. They should be able to provide you with a list of nurseries and childminders. Alternatively you could talk to other parents, use online search facilities or ask at your local children’s centre.
Choosing the right Childcare Provider
There are a few simple stages involved in choosing a childcare provider. They are fraught with anxiety of course but following them should get you to the end position you want to be in.
- Draw up a shortlist of potential providers ensuring they can provide the hours you require and have a price which is agreeable to your budget.
- Visit several sessions and have your prepared questions ready (discussed below)
- Choose your provider, check references and if acceptable and sign on the dotted line
- Book your child in for their settling in sessions and set in stone all the administrative tasks – passwords, who is allowed to pick up your child and emergency contacts
Be prepared for tears and be prepared to walk out of the door feeling like a pretty bad parent but most children settle very quickly and really enjoy their time.
Organising your Visits
When you enter a premises you’ll have an immediate feeling towards it and that can be improved upon or worsened by the questions you ask. Although everyone is different keeping the following questions in mind may help your visit go successfully and give you a clear overall opinion of the provider:
- What is your current ratio of staff to children?
- How many children do you currently care for? What is your maximum capacity?
- What qualifications and experience do you have?
- Do you operate a key worker scheme (relevant just to nurseries)?
- What are your daily routines? Will you incorporate my child’s current routine?
- What do I need to provide in terms of food/nappies/drinks?
- How do you manage the children’s behaviour?
- Where will my child nap if they need to?
This is only a sample of questions of course and there may be more pressing matters relating to additional needs or specific things you are worried about. The best advice we can give is to ask everything you want to ask – then nothing is left in the dark.
It is a big decision to make, especially if you work from home. There’s a sense as you’re in the home you shouldn’t need to send your children to childcare, as it may have been a key deciding factor when you decided to become self-employed. However, if it becomes a necessity then finding a childcare provider can be an anxiety and stress-free procedure, until the day you drop them off at least.
Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toddlers_play_area_in_The_Secret_Garden,_Eden_Villa_Park_-_geograph.org.uk_-_512145.jpg