Most working, freelance and business mums rely on childcare of some form. But with so many choices available, how do you work out what type of childcare is right for your family?
To help make the decision a little easier, childcare expert Kristen Harding from My Family Care explains some of the options available to you.
How to find the right childcare for your family
Let me start by saying that there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to childcare. Everyone’s situation will be different, depending on the hours you work, your family circumstances, the needs of your child and the financial resources available to you.
At My Family Care, we help parents understand what their childcare needs are as well as what options are available to them. More often than not, we find that the right childcare is a carefully considered combination.
The best place to get started is to know what your options are. There are several different types of care available – some are short term solutions and limited by the age of your children, while others are more permanent and compliment a range of ages.
Childcare in your own home
When hiring care in your own home, you may choose to do it yourself or go through a childcare agency, such as Tinies Childcare. Either way, remember that these are your children and their safety and development should be first and foremost in your decision.
Trust your gut instinct, and when in doubt ask for help. Even if you don’t use an agency to find your carer, you can ask them to check references or carry out a DBS check for you so that you can feel more confident in your decision.
This is a short term option, but can be a saving grace if you have commitments to fulfill in the six weeks following birth of your child, or if you’re a first time mum with no support network close by.
A maternity nurse will usually work 24 a day, 6 days a week. They can help you settle in, offer advice on how to care for your newborn and help initiate a routine. A maternity nurse runs at about £750 per week but, if you can afford it and have space in your home to accommodate another adult, it’s well worth the cost.
A nanny offers you flexible hours and a childcare solution in your own home. Nannies can live in or out and you have control over choices such as daily activities, routines, meals options and discipline. A nanny will have different levels of experience and training, and doesn’t have to be Ofsted registered so it’s up to you as a parent to decide on your minimum requirements.
Remember the cost will change depending on what you require. A nanny can cost you between £250 and £550 per week depending on hours, responsibilities and location.
It’s important to remember that when employing a nanny, you become the employer. Companies such as Nanny Tax or Nanny Matters will be able to help you work through the logistics of becoming an employer.
A common misconception is that nannies are only available to the rich and famous – when actually, with the cost of nurseries rising, having a nanny can be more cost effective, especially if you have more than one child or you work long hours.
Many families are also finding other, like-minded parents in their local community who are interested in sharing a nanny. Websites like Nanny Share can help you find a family close by. This option allows you the flexible care of a nanny, and the added bonus that your child will be socialising with another child.
Once you’ve found a match, you can either arrange to share the nanny full time (at one home or alternating) or by splitting days. Sharing a nanny still requires that at least one family becomes the employer.
An extra pair of hands
While a little antiquated in name, a mother’s help can be useful but they are not usually left unsupervised with your children. Their role is to back up parents rather than take sole charge, and they would expect to do the jobs that a mother or father would do at home. This includes school runs and nursery duties. They can be left alone with older children, but it is a good idea to supervise them with younger children.
An au pair is similar but is usually from another country, and will act as a helper in exchange for room and board, a small wage, and hours that fit around classes. They will most likely be studying a language.
For an extra set of hands you will likely need to spend between £100 and £300 per week, depending on hours and living arrangements.
If you are lucky enough to have a relative who lives nearby, who is willing and able to help with your childcare needs you may have hit the jackpot! Not only does your child already know this person, but the individual likely knows your routines and preferences.
Relative care can be very cost-effective, depending on the arrangement you make. However, we suggest that you put a series of boundaries in place and make sure to respect them. We find there are three pitfalls to relative care, which can all be resolved with a conversation or two:
- Respect – just because a relative is taking care of your child, it doesn’t mean that you can be chronically late or constantly change plans without discussing it first. Remember that your relative is doing you a favour (especially if you are not paying them) so don’t take advantage of them.
- Money – while many relatives will refuse to be paid, some may insist. It’s important to have this conversation up front and be very clear on how the financials will work. Even if you are not paying for care, we suggest you set up a way that you cover all of the costs accrued, such as travel to and from classes, or entry fees for day trips.
- Wavelength – often you’ll be on the same page when it comes to parenting, but sometimes you’re reading from totally different books! When this happens, make sure to discuss it calmly and rationally and find a solution that works for both of you – ultimately, you both have your child’s best interests at heart.
If you can make those three elements work, relative care can be a great solution for everyone.
Childcare outside your home
Not all childcare takes place under your own roof. In fact, for many working, freelance and business mums, childcare outside your home is a more realistic and affordable option.
Childminders provide care for a number of children in their own homes. They can be a less expensive option at £4-£9 per hour, however, your child will be one of a few and you will not have as much control over their daily routine.
Childminders are often parents themselves, and will have a basic level of childcare training, paediatric first aid, and be registered with Ofsted – at a minimum.
Because care is provided in their home, they can be more flexible regarding drop off and pick-up than a nursery, and your child will have a ready-made group of children to play with. However, the childminder will have their own daily routine in order to meet the needs of all of the children in their care – this may mean things like tagging along for school pick-ups, and imposed nap times.
To find childminders in your local area, you can consult your local Family Information Service.
This is the most structured form of group childcare you can choose. Nurseries have set hours (usually from 8am to 6pm), follow EYFS Standards and provide a good opportunity for children to socialise in a safe environment.
All nurseries are Ofsted registered, and you are likely to pay anywhere from £150 to £400 per week – however, there is government funding available for a set number of hours if your child is 3-4 years old. This funding is also being offered to some two year olds.
A childcare back-up plan
Once you have decided on a type or types of childcare to fit around your lifestyle, the next step is to put a back-up plan in place. Your back-up plan may be relatives or a neighbour, or even a network of friends.
Having an insurance policy in place is essential – regular care breaks down an average of nine times a year. It may be that your nanny or childminder is sick, your parents have decided to take a holiday, or your child is not able to go to nursery. Conjunctivitis or chicken pox = no nursery!
Services such as Emergency Childcare act as an insurance policy for those days when you need to be at work, but your care arrangements have fallen through. With as little as two hours’ notice, they can have a nanny to your door or find you a place in a local nursery or with a childminder. Knowing you have this as an option offers peace of mind to every working parent.
How to decide on the right childcare for your family
This is where I hand the process over to you. Only you know your situation and what will work for you. However, here are a series of questions that you can ask yourself and discuss with your partner, which should make deciding what childcare is right for you easier.
- What is my budget range for childcare? (Be realistic.)
- What hours do I need to cover? (Don’t underestimate your travel time!)
- What options are available in my area? (Do you have relatives nearby? Are there lots of group settings to choose from? Are there other families that you could consider sharing with?)
- Would I feel comfortable leaving my child with a stranger?
- Do I want my child in a group setting?
- How structured do I want my child’s day to be? (Think about your child’s personality and needs.)
- How will this child’s care fit around our other children? (If you already have children, you may be able to use the same childcare. However, if the age gaps are large, you may have to start from scratch!)
Need more help finding the right childcare?
If you need more help or advice finding the right childcare for your family, take a look at these articles on our site:
- The pros and cons of childminders
- How to find a childminder
- The pros and cons of nurseries
- How to find a nursery
- The pros and cons of nannies
- How to find a nanny
- How to plan for emergency childcare
Kristen Harding was a nanny for eight years, taking care of five different families. Today she uses her experiences to help raise awareness of childcare choices through her role with My Family Care and their sister companies.