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Finding good quality childcare can be a difficult task for parents. There are lots of things to look out for and to remember to ask when you visit a childcare setting. How do you know if your child will be happy? Will they cater for your child's needs? Do they provide feedback about how your child is doing? What if my child doesn't like it?
Make a list
Draw up a shortlist of childcare providers
Remember to check the hours that childcare providers can provide childcare, the hourly, daily, and/or weekly cost and if they have places available for your child
Visit the settings
It's a good idea to visit several settings and ask questions in person about the childcare provided. It might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.
What to look for
Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs
Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful
Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space
Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life
A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups
Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind planned exercise and quiet times to relax are important
A big welcome for you and your child
What to ask
What is the ratio of staff to children?
How many children do you care for?
What qualifications and/or experience do you have?
What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines?
Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)?
What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour?
Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies, etc. or will I need to provide them?
What will your child enjoy?
These are some things parents feel are important when using childcare
Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends
Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks
Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside
Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do
Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe
These are just some of the things you can consider; remember to also think about the things that matter to you and your child, and make sure you ask about them!
Check the quality
Most childcare providers (including nurseries, childminders, children’s centres and extended school services) looking after children under the age of eight years usually have to be registered with Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). Ofsted visits all registered childcare services and makes sure that standards are being met and that children are safe. You can check Ofsted grades and report for the childcare providers you are considering.
Take up references
Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can also be very useful. It advisable to take up at least two references. Childcare providers should be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about the service they provide. Do remember that what works for one family may not always be suitable for your needs.
Book a place
Book your child's place and arrange details like hours, start date, and who is allowed to pick up your child. You may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts.
Your child may take some time to settle into any new childcare setting that you start them in, so allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare. Most childcarers, such as childminders, will offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is the right one for your child and that they are happy there.
Don’t forget that some two year olds and all three and four year olds in England can get 570 hours of free childcare, the equivalent of 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year.
What is Registered Childcare?
Ofsted is the Government Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. It regulates childcare for children from birth to 18 years of age.
Ofsted operates two registers:
The Early Years Register
All childcare providers must register with Ofsted on the Early Years Register and meet the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage if they are providing care for children from birth to age 5 for more than two hours a day on more than five days a year. This includes childminders, day nurseries, pre-schools, private nursery schools and, in certain situations, schools.
The Childcare Register
The Childcare Register has two parts: a compulsory part and a voluntary part.
The compulsory part of the register:
A childcare provider must register on the compulsory part of the Childcare Register if they provide care for children age 5 to 8 for more than two hours a day on more than five days a year.
A childcare provider will be on both the Early Years Register and the Childcare Register if they care for children under and over the age of 5.
The voluntary part of the register
If a childcare provider does not have to register on the compulsory part of the register, they may be able to join the voluntary part of the register if:
• they only look after children aged between 8 and 18;
• they look after children for fewer than two hours a day, five days a year (for example, some crèches);
• they provide care in a child’s home (for example, as a nanny or home child-carer); or
• they only provide activities such as sports coaching or tuition.
Registered Childminders are Self-employed childcare professionals who work in their own homes caring for smaller numbers of children.
They can offer full time, part time, before and after school, school holiday care, overnight care and emergency care.
Some childminders also offer the Free Early Education Funding places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds (15 and 30 hours).
Day nurseries provide daycare and education in age related groups to children up to the age of 5 years and tend to open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Some Nurseries open for longer hours to help support parents' different working patterns.
Most day nurseries offer the Free Early Education Funding places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds (15 and 30 hours) and some can also provide before and after school pick ups and school holiday care.
Pre-schools provide play and education in sessions (morning or afternoon) of about 2.5 hours for children between the ages of 2 and 5.
Some pre-schools have flexibility on the sessions your child can attend, while others are more structured with children attending five full mornings or five full afternoons.
Pre-schools / playgroups tend to run term time only and some of them offer the Free Early Education Funding places for eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds (15 and 30 hours).
Some schools have nursery classes on the same site. They can provide a good introduction to school. They are registered with Ofsted and are open term time only.
They all offer the free funded 15 hour places for 3 and 4 year olds.
Some also offer the free funded 30 hour places for eligible 3 and 4 year olds and some also offer the free funded 15 hour places for eligible 2 year olds.
Before/After school clubs may be offered by a school, or by a private or voluntary provider either on or off the school site. They run before and after the school day. If they provide care for children under the age of eight years, then they will be registered with Ofsted.
What is unregistered childcare?
A childcare provider does not need to or will not be able to join the voluntary part of the register if:
• the parent or carer stays with their child during childcare (such as at a parent toddler group); or
• they are a relative of the child, such as a grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister.
Unregistered childcare can also include nannies, au pairs, some babysitters and babysitting agencies. However, babysitting is also offered by some registered childminders, in which case they will have a certificate of registration.
Usually used outside standard work hour for example, in the evenings and at weekends and are often older teenagers (16 years +). There are Babysitting Agencies who will offer screening for suitable babysitters.
Sitters UK is a useful resource for finding approved Babysitters.
Nannies and Au Pairs are paid employees who look after children in your home and can look after any age children.
How will I know my child will be safe?
All Ofsted-registered childcare providers must display their certificate of registration. To get a certificate of registration, providers have to meet certain legal requirements and safety measures.
You should always make sure you visit a childcare setting to get a feel for the environment and the way care is provided. You need to be comfortable that the staff know what they are doing and have suitable systems in place – for example for vetting staff and carrying out health and safety risk assessments.
This organisation now carries out the roles of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). It oversees the requirement that all Ofsted registered childcare providers must get a CRB check for adults who look after children or have unsupervised access to them. (In the case of childminders, this includes other people living in the house over the age of 16.)
Arranging childcare through the school holidays can be a challenge however, many activities, schemes and childminders operate during this time.
Holiday childcare can provide essential childcare and peace of mind during the school holidays.