Childcare

The childcare section includes helpful guides and tips on the types of childcare available, what you should consider when making a choice, plus the latest news on legislation and benefits to support parents with childcare when they go back to work.

In this guide:

Finding childcare for your baby or toddler can be stressful and leave you with some guilty feelings – but the good news is that children who socialise often with others are proven to have better social, emotional and educational development.

There’s lots involved in making childcare choices, from decide on the type, finding the right set-up for your child and settling them in successfully. Here’s our guide to taking the worry out of this important decision.

Making the decision

The first thing you need to identify is when and why you’ll want to start using childcare. Often, it’s at the end of maternity or parental leave when you need to return to work.

Most parents start thinking about this before baby has even arrived. It’s a good idea to get a sense of how busy local nurseries or childminders are and how much notice they will need to book you a place. Many parents start visiting childcare providers at this point to narrow down their options.

We look at the options in more detail below, but the most common sources of childcare are nurseries, childminders, nannies or au-pairs, pre-schools, and arrangements with family members.

Costs/financial considerations

You should also think about the financial side of things. For some parents the cost of childcare is about the same as their earnings – and they therefore decide to be a stay-at-home mum; at least until childcare funding becomes available.

But you should also find out if you can get help with childcare costs. There are a number of options available once your child has reached the age of two, as there is some government funding for childcare. You can explore these via the Government website. These include up to 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds.

Note that to take advantage of these schemes you must use an approved childcare provider – usually a registered nursery or childminder.

Bear in mind that childcare voucher schemes have now closed to new users, replaced by the new system outlined above. If you’re already registered with your employer for childcare vouchers, however, you can continue to use them.

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Types of childcare

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the main types of childcare.

Nurseries

Often you can find a registered nursery near work or a station, making the morning routine a bit simpler. Accepting babies from around three months, nurseries often give good flexibility in hours, opening as early as 7.00am and extending into the evening. You also benefit from guaranteed daily care – unlike a nanny or childminder who won’t be able to look after your child if they’re unwell.

Nurseries are inspected by Ofsted so you have a good insight into what they do and how they meet expected standards. They are very structured and have plenty of different activities to keep your child entertained while learning and developing new skills.

Childminders

Some parents really like the environment that a childminder offers, as most childminders care for children in their own home. Children can get a good variety of activities, including visits to baby and toddler groups, trips to the shops or park or playtime in the garden.

Registered childminders are also inspected by Ofsted. They are limited to caring for six children under eight, with a maximum of three under-fives.

Some childminders are flexible in their hours, offering weekend or evening care. They may also do the school run for older siblings, making it a good option if you have children of different ages.

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Nanny/au-pair

A nanny or au pair will look after your child in your home. That means great flexibility if your working hours can be unpredictable. Nannies are usually qualified in childcare, while an au pair is often a young person from overseas looking to combine travelling and work. They’re less likely to have a formal qualification.

A nanny or au pair will often cook for your child – and sometimes you – and can do other jobs at home such as laundry or cleaning, which can help you keep on top of things.

Unsurprisingly, a nanny is the most expensive childcare option, but some families get around this by sharing nannies and splitting the cost.

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Pre-school

Pre-schools are available for three and four year olds and are designed to get your child ready for school. Choosing a pre-school near your child’s future primary school can help them build relationships with their classmates, which can ease the transition. Many pre-schools only operate in term time.

All families are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare for a three or four year old. If both parents work more than 16 hours and earn less than £100,000, you should qualify for 30 hours of childcare a week in term time – or 22 hours if you spread it across the whole year.

Family arrangements

It’s very common today for grandparents and other relatives to play a role in childcare. In fact our most recent survey of working parents showed that 15% use grandparents as their main childcare arrangement, and 50% get help from grandparents to reduce their overall childcare costs.

It gives grandparents valuable bonding time with your child, and as we increasingly live longer and in better health, many are happy to take on this role.

However, you should be realistic about the level of commitment it will require. As you know, looking after young children is very tiring! Sometimes relatives might not always make the same decisions about food, sleep or behaviour as you, which can lead to tension. It’s important that everyone knows what’s expected, boundaries are set and concerns are openly discussed.

Things to consider

There are a few areas that can help you make the decision about what kind of childcare will be best for you.

    1. The daily routine. Getting yourself and your child out of the house in the morning can be a challenge, so try and choose childcare that isn’t too far out of the way.
    2. Mealtimes. Some childminders or nurseries will provide a meal for your child, while others will expect you to provide milk or packed lunches. Weigh up the pros and cons of the convenience versus control over what your child is eating each day.
    3. What will work for your child. You know your baby best. Are they sensitive to noise and activity? Will they thrive in a busy environment, or benefit from a calmer setting? Do you feel the carers involved are a good match for your child’s character? Is there a good range of activity on offer?

Where to find childcare in your local area

Finding a registered childminder or nursery is simple – use a search engine or visit the Government website to find a list of registered childminders.

Bear in mind that there are non-registered childminders too. Ask around at local baby groups or check local noticeboards and listings.

Nannies and au pairs can also be found online via various websites. You can also advertise privately.

Be prepared to interview a few candidates to find someone you’re happy with.

How to settle your child into childcare

Remember that your chosen childcare provider will have had a lot of experience in settling in new children – let them lead the way. Usually there will be a few trial sessions to help your baby or toddler get used to the setting and their carer.

The most important thing to remember is that your child will pick up on your emotions. If you’re nervous, upset or worried, they will be too. Try to give yourself plenty of time to get there and settle them in – especially at the beginning so that you’re not rushing and tense.

Try to keep the morning routine consistent so that your child recognises the stages of heading to nursery. Talk about it cheerfully.

Finally, if your child is upset when you leave, be brave! Try not to hang around for the emotion to escalate – just say goodbye and go. Ninety-nine per cent of the time they are distracted out of their tears very quickly and go on to have a great day.

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After School & Summer Childcare

Of course, it is not just babies and toddlers who need looking after – many parents will also have to arrange for wrap around childcare once their children are at school.

Childminders are a good option. Ask around to find out if there are any childminders serving your local school with regards drop offs and pick ups – once you have come contacts you can then research their Ofsted registration.

Also, ask your child’s school if they offer breakfast club or after school club provision – or search on the Government website for provision in your area. There is usually a small fee to send your child to these clubs, but it enables you to still manage a full day at work and get your children to and from school.

If these options are not viable, perhaps consider requesting to work flexibly. Everyone has the right to request flexible working and it may be a consideration to shift your hours around in order to manage school hours.

Finally,  make sure you get well prepared in advance of school holidays. Many nurseries and local councils will run holiday playschemes, but the six week Summer break is very long, so give yourself plenty of time to get organised. You can read more about Summer childcare options here.

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