Making a decision about childcare

Content supplied by NHS Choices
  • Think about your child’s needs and what’s available. There aren’t many nursery places for babies and you may prefer to leave a small baby in the care of a single person who you can get to know. A toddler or pre-school child may be happier in a group atmosphere, making friends and learning new skills, although a very shy child may prefer to spend most of their time with a childminder but have regular trips to a playgroup or one o’clock club (a group organised by the local council, where young children and their parents can come to play and socialise).
  • Your needs are important too. Will the childcare cover your working hours or will you need someone else to cover the extra time? Over-complicated arrangements will make life stressful for you and your child.
  • Don’t rush into a decision. Visit the childminder or nursery and have a good chat with them. Ask about the basics, such as hours, fees and what they include, holidays and what happens if someone’s ill or there’s an emergency.
  • Think about transport. How easily can you get there from work and from home?
  • Give your child time to settle in. If you can, start by leaving your child for a short time and gradually build the time up. This may mean introducing your child to childcare before you’ve started back at work.
  • Tell your childminder or nursery all about your child. They’ll need details about your child’s routine, likes and dislikes, feeding habits (particularly if you’re still breastfeeding) and so on. When you’re picking your child up or dropping them off, try to allow enough time to talk and find out how things are going.
  • If you’ve got specific concerns, talk about them. If your child has asthma, for example, you’ll need to be sure that your childminder doesn’t keep pets and whether they, or anyone else in the house, smokes. Perhaps you worry about your child being given certain things to eat. Whatever the issue is, if it’s important to you, talk about it.
  • Make sure that you and your childminder or nursery workers agree on important issues. It’s important to take a consistent approach to things like discipline and potty training.
  • Support and reassure your child in every way you can. The early weeks of childcare are likely to be difficult for both of you. A regular routine and a handover that’s as smooth as possible will help. It’s perfectly normal for your child to cry when you leave, but the crying usually stops once you’ve gone. Don’t hang around and, once you’ve left, don’t go back. If you said you’d be back at a certain time, make sure you are.
  • Share the experience. With older children, chat about what they’ve been doing while you’ve been away and talk about the person who looks after them. Show them it’s all part of normal life and something to look forward to.
  • Make time. Whatever else you need to sacrifice (like the housework!), it’s vital to spend time with your child once you’ve gone back to work.
  • Don’t feel guilty. Evidence shows that children do well in high-quality childcare. There’s no need to feel guilty about not being there all the time. If you’re worried about the quality of care, it’s important to do something about it as soon as possible. Contact the Ofsted Early Years helpline on 0845 601 4771 for help and advice on how to make a complaint.

Finding a child carer or early education provider

  • Go to see the group or school (see a few if you can). Talk to the people in charge, look at what’s going on and ask questions. This will give you a sense of what it’s like. Find out what the children do, how they’re cared for and how their learning is supported.
  • Trust your instincts. If you like the feel of a place and the children seem happy and busy, that’s a good sign. You know best what kind of place will suit your child.
  • Talk to other parents whose children are at the group or school. Your health visitor may be able to tell you about other parents’ views and experiences.
  • Talk about ways of getting your child to settle in. Staff may suggest ways of helping with this. At a playgroup or nursery school, you might stay with your child at first and then go away for longer and longer periods of time. In some situations, your child may need more support and reassurance. For example, your child may be one of very few black children at a mainly white school, or the other way round. In this situation, talk to the school beforehand about any problems that may come up. Find out how the school will handle them, make suggestions if you want to and explain your child’s needs. Talk to your child about it too.

The childcare checklist

  • How many children are there in a group/school/class and how many staff?
  • How many of the staff are permanent and what are their qualifications?
  • What are the arrangements for discussing what your child’s been doing that day and their overall progress?
  • How are children disciplined?
  • How will your child be stimulated and given opportunities to learn through play?
  • What kind of equipment is there?
  • What sort of activities are on offer?
  • Is there outside space? Can children run around outside when the weather’s bad?
  • Are trips and visits organised?
  • How are children taught about different races, cultures and religions?
  • Are parents expected to help out, perhaps with activities like cooking or outings?
  • What meals and snacks are provided and is there a nutrition policy?
  • Will your child’s dietary needs (for example, for kosher, vegetarian or nut-free food) be met? If not, can you bring in food and will it be kept separate?


NHS Choices

Published Date 2010-07-23

Last Review Date 2009-07-28



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