How to find the right childcare for your child

Starting to think about childcare? Find out how to choose the right setting – and childcare provider – for your child and you. 

Choosing childcare is one of the most important decisions you can make. The thought of handing over your precious little one to a relative stranger is daunting, but there are huge benefits to high quality childcare.

Not only does it support children’s development, it provides peace of mind so you can in turn concentrate on work or studies, knowing your child is safe, and being well looked after.

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Whoever cares for your child will have a huge influence on them during the most impressionable years of their life.

Start looking for childcare sooner rather than later

There are many different childcare providers in the UK, so when you start your search it can feel overwhelming. One of the most important pieces of advice that we offer is to start your search sooner rather than later.

Many childcare providers have waiting lists. So don’t leave it until the last minute to start researching your options and find your top choices are all full.

First impressions count for a lot, but before you even visit a setting you can do some background checks. All registered childcare providers, including childminders, are regulated by Ofsted in England, and reading their latest inspection report will give you a good overview of the setting.

The different types of childcare

There are broadly two different types of childcare:

  • Home-based (domestic) childcare which includes registered childminders, registered nannies and childcare on domestic premises (yours or someone else’s).
  • Group-based (non-domestic) childcare which includes day nurseries, pre-schools and school nurseries.

The type of childcare you choose is really down to your individual preference, budget, how many days you need childcare for, and your child’s age and needs.

There are often misconceptions about the role of a childminders, but it is worth knowing that childminders are trained professionals. They have to deliver the same curriculum Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) as nurseries and they provide a home-from-home environment, and a flexible service, that can suit some children and families better.

If you are entitled the funded hours from the government, then you can split your entitlement (15 or 30 hours) across two different childcare providers.

How to make the right decision

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to childcare. So we always advise parents to think about the type of parents they are when making a decision .

What do you want your children to get out of their time with a childcare provider? And what kind of experience do you want them to have? Some parents prefer a personal, flexible, home-based approach, while a vibrant, bigger setting offers more appeal for others.

The local Family Information Service has details of all the local registered childcare providers, and is good to use to create a shortlist of settings you would like to visit.

Two aspects that will have a big influence on which childcare settings is the amount of hours you need and where you live. Whether you work standard office hours or irregular shifts will have a big impact on your choice, and location is key – you’ll be spending a great deal of time travelling to and from childcare, so it’s important to choose somewhere that’s not miles away or hard to get to.

Asking the right questions

When you arrange an appointment at a potential childcare option, take your child with you and let them be the judge. Watching how the childcarer interacts with a child can be really insightful. Do they focus on your child? How do they engage with them? Do they appear interested?

Prepare a list of things that you would like to find out, such as, how long the setting has been registered, how many children they care for, the ages of the children and opening times.

Cost will be important too, as will finding out what is and isn’t included in fees, as some settings charge extras. You need to feel reassured by the experience and qualifications of staff and how long they have worked at the setting – continuity is key.

It’s a good idea to ask about the typical daytime routine including meals, sleep time and activities, and how the setting monitors a child’s progress and shares information with parents. Overall the safety and welfare of children in the setting is the most important factor.

If you hold strong views on any aspect of parenting, you need to find a setting that mirrors your point of view. And finally, if your child has additional needs, or suffers from a medical condition or an allergy or intolerance, you should ensure the setting understands your child’s specifiic requirements.

Find the right childcare for you and your child

High quality childcare settings ensure that carers and children form strong bonds, that children feel safe and have opportunities to learn and develop through a range of varied activities. Days are structured and children enjoy nutritious food and lots of positive interactions from those who are caring for them.

Once you find the right childcare, your provider will have lots of ways to keep you involved in your child’s progress, such as a daily update or a shared learning journal. Just because you are at work or studying it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on those important milestones.

Theresa Johnson is the Professional Development Manager, Professional Association for Childcare & Early Years (PACEY). Parents can find childcare providers in their area on PACEY’s childcare directory. For more information about paying for childcare, go to the government’s childcare website.