Tue 08 Jan 2019
How do you feel about childcare? Do you feel confident that you know everything you need to? Or do you feel bewildered by all the options and terrified of the costs? This post takes a look at some of the issues you might face and what you can do about them.
When we went to our antenatal class to prepare for our baby's birth, the last thing we expected to be talking about with the other parents-to-be was childcare. They had booked their nursery places months ago and we hadn't even considered it yet! We left the class feeling very worried, thinking there would be no spaces left anywhere for our daughter.
Several months later we still had nothing sorted. Childcare got pushed to the back of our minds as we battled with the challenges of being new parents. Next time I thought about it our daughter was 4 months old. In a panic, I called round lots of different nurseries. A few of them were indeed full. However, I soon found out I needn't have worried. There were lots of places left at other great nurseries. We looked round three and quickly fell in love with the one we eventually chose. It looked so much fun, we wanted to go there ourselves!
Day nurseries and registered childminders tend to be the most common choices. Nurseries are a good fit if you work normal office hours, whereas childminders can often be more flexible. Some people prefer the more home-like environment that childminders can provide. Nurseries are usually more expensive, but meals (and sometimes nappies and wipes) are included. Childminders could ask you to provide food, nappies, wipes and/or playgroup fees.
Nurseries normally charge for every week of the year they are open, regardless of whether you are on holiday or your child is ill. For childminders, if they are ill or on holiday themselves, you will need to find alternative childcare, maybe at the short notice.
Lots of factors can influence this decision. You might have, or be considering, new part time or flexible work arrangements influenced by childcare costs. Family or friends may have offered to help out (if you're considering this, this Netmums article is well worth a read). I found it really useful to speak to other mums about what they were doing to get ideas about what might work for our family.
You could be eligible for help with childcare costs which might influence your decision about how many hours you want. The government resource childcarechoices.co.uk can help you find out what you're entitled to. Another really great resource is the step by step Childcare Costs guide on moneysavingexpert.com.
I was overwhelmed by this at first as there were so many to choose from. A good starting point is to ask for recommendations. Ask your friends, speak to other parents at baby/toddler groups, put the question out to local parent support groups on Facebook or online forums.
Some other great resources I used were daynurseries.co.uk for nurseries, and my local Family Information Service (FIS) for childminders. The Family and Childcare Trust can help you find your local FIS. Alternatively, you can get the details from your local council. The government's page on Childcare is also helpful. Finally, I narrowed down my list by reading the OFSTED reports for each provider. It helped me get a feel for the way each place was run.
When you have a shortlist of providers, give them a call to check they have the days/hours you want. If they don't, ask how long the waiting list is. If it is short you may still want to consider them. Make viewing appointments for your top 3-5 providers.
At your appointment ask the provider questions about the care they will give your child. For example:
Take a look at a few different providers to get a feel for what you like and what you don't. Look carefully to see how clean the premises and resources are. Grubby and old looking toys were a big no-no for me! You can always go for a second viewing or meeting if there is anything else you want to check.
Once you have all of the information above, you should feel confident in making a decision as to which childcare option is best for your family. Don't panic if you think you have left it too late. There will be something available that meets your needs, even if it is just for a temporary period until you can change to your preferred provider.
The summer holidays can feel endless for parents with children of school age. Many find themselves counting down the weeks until their child goes back to school! Childcare arrangements tend to be a juggling act of swapping time off between parents, working from home (if the employer allows it), or getting help from grandparents, family or friends. If you use a childminder, they may also be able to help out, but don't forget that they might be taking a holiday during the time you want to use them.
Holiday clubs can be helpful and your local FIS, local authority or library will be able to give you information on what is available in your area. Parents who receive tax credits may be eligible for help with the costs. Childcare vouchers can sometimes be used also.
A great resource for further information on summer childcare is familylives.org.uk.
You've had a child-free occasion booked for weeks and then, all of a sudden, your babysitter has to cancel. Now what?
Hopefully, you have a nearby relative or friend who can take on the task at short notice. You maybe have a couple of other babysitters who you have used before who can step in. Your childminder might even be able to help out. Sometimes though, it doesn't matter how many plan B's and C's you have, you just can't find anyone else.
This is where a specialist agency can be a handy option. You may feel wary about having an unknown sitter look after your child(ren). However, a reputable agency like Hello Mums will take great care of recruitment and training to ensure your kids will be in safe hands. If you have any doubts, give the agency a call to discuss your concerns, and take a look online to see what other parents have said about their experiences using the service.
I hope the above has helped to solve some of the dilemmas you may be facing with your childcare challenges. There are lots of great providers out there and with these tools you will be several steps closer to finding them. I wish you lots of good luck for your search.