Most parents find themselves in need of daytime childcare at some stage, whether they’re returning to work, want time to themselves, or decide it’s time their child learned to socialise. But who do you trust to look after them, and how can you be sure they provide a quality service? Here are the essentials to consider when choosing a care provider for your child.
1Type of childcare
First, decide on the type of childcare you think would benefit your son or daughter most. Would they thrive in a busier setting with more children, such as a private nursery, or would they do better with a home-based childminder who only looks after a small group?
2Planning is crucial
The best nurseries and childminders are likely to be full and even have waiting lists – so the sooner you investigate your options, the better.
Check potential childcare providers in your area – they might be close to home or near your workplace, depending on what works for your schedule. Most commercial centres will have a website, making it easy to check things like opening hours, costs and facilities. A list of approved childminders should be available from your local authority.
4Ask for opinions and recommendations
Word-of-mouth endorsements from people you trust – friends, colleagues, other family members – are invaluable, and will often yield information you won’t get from official sources. You could also post on social media, maybe asking members of local Facebook groups for their views. Be careful, though – you’re likely to get many conflicting opinions.
Once you’ve drawn up a list of possibilities, arrange to visit each of them. If you can drop in unannounced to do this, even better – it will give you a genuine glimpse into how things are run. For most, though, you’ll contact them either by phone or email.
6Write a checklist
Make a list of points to note, such as how you are welcomed and staff attitudes. Are the premises safe and clean, and do the other children seem happy and relaxed?
This is also your chance to ask as many questions as you like. At a nursery, you’ll want to know the ratio of staff to children, and whether there are separate rooms/sections for different ages. With a childminder, it will be how many children are cared for at any one time and what happens when he/she decides to take a holiday. Other questions might include:
- What experience and training do you/the staff have?
- What is the routine for a typical day? Does it include rest and quiet times as well as fun and stimulation?
- How is information presented or what feedback is given to parents each day? Is there one person who will be the key contact for matters relating to my child?
- Do you provide meals/snacks/nappies etc or do I? If food is provided, is it cooked fresh on site and is there a weekly meal plan available?
- How do you manage the children’s behaviour and what is your discipline policy?
- How much time is spent outdoors and how often do younger/older children mix?
- What security measures are in place? How are visitors monitored, and what is the procedure for people entering or leaving the building, such as delivery drivers?
- What happens at drop-off/pick-up times, and what if I need to arrange for someone else to collect my child?
- Do they show an interest in your child’s life – such as asking about any cultural considerations or home situation.
Ask to see a copy of any official licence or quality report, depending on what the regulations require in your country. In the UK, for example, this might be an Ofsted inspection or registration, while in Canada and the US, requirements can vary from state to state.
Request at least two referees, typically other parents with children who attend that setting. The provider should be happy to either give you their contact details or pass yours on. Most importantly, follow up on them.
10Book a trial
If you’re happy at the initial visit the next stage is usually to book a trial, which you will have to pay for. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want you to leave – this is common when they are used to being with you, and chances are they will settle quickly once you have gone. Note how they seem when you arrive to collect them – are they happy, relaxed, enthusiastic about their day? Don’t bombard them with questions straight away. If they are old enough to discuss it, take them for somewhere for a treat – perhaps a favourite café – and let the conversation develop naturally. You’ll soon get a feel for how they found the experience.
11Rinse and repeat
Don’t worry about going through this process with several different providers. You want to find the best place for your child, so it’s important to do the groundwork. Once you’ve found the ideal place and they’ve started going there, remember they will need time to adjust to their new routine. There may be an agreed settling-in period, or you might set your own, after which you can assess whether your child is happy and in the right place.