Finding the right kind of childcare for you, and your family’s needs, is a task worth taking some time over.
After all, whichever way you sway, someone that isn’t you will be looking after your little angel ? while you’re at work.
Therefore, it’s essential to get the chemistry right and a solid, trustworthy system in place.
Here, we explain what’s currently on offer for parents, and how to select the childcare that best suits your needs…
What childcare options are out there?
Most childcare for working parents falls into one of the following 6 categories:
- Day nurseries: Care from 6 weeks to 4 years, in an approved centre
- Childminders: Registered with Ofsted, providing care for children from 6 weeks to about 8 years, in someone else’s home
- Home childcarers: Registered childminders who work in your home
- Nannies: Provide care and can look after children of any age usually in your own home
- Kinship care: Grandparents and/or extended family look after the children.
- Au pairs: A single person between the ages of 17 and 27 who lives for up to two years in your home.
What should I think about when considering these childcare options?
Research each option to find out what arrangement suits your circumstances best:
- Work out how many childcare hours/days you’ll need each week
- Think about whether you’ll need flexible arrangements
- Consider the geography: are you looking for childcare facilities close to home or close to work?
- Think about what you’ll do if you child is sick
- Calculate how much can you afford to pay for childcare.
Speaking to other working parents is a good way to get advice. Also visit as many childcare settings as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Day nurseries – what you should know
Day nurseries provide care for children between 6 weeks and 4 or 5 years. Always use a registered day nursery as they’re regularly inspected by Ofsted.
Children should be grouped together by age and looked after by carers according to specified staff/children ratios to ensure your child gets the attention they need.
What it costs: Expect to pay around £118 – £147 for part time care (25 hours), or £222 – £277 for full time care (50 hours), depending on where in the country you live. Get more info here.
Is a day nursery for you? If most of the following apply to you, a day nursery might be your best option:
- I feel happy leaving my child in a place where there are qualified staff
- I need somewhere that’s open virtually all year
- My hours fit in with their opening times
- I need to know that there will always be someone to look after my child – if one carer is sick, another can cover
- I have emergency back-up (ill children can’t attend day nursery)
- I want my child to be around plenty of other children and involved in lots of activities
- I want my child to have access to different toys, equipment and stimulation
- I think my child’s ready for new experiences.
Childminders, home childcarers and nannies – what you need to know
Your child is looked after in the childminder’s own home. A childminder must be registered with Ofsted and can care for up to 6 children under 8 years in their home. No more than 3 of the children should be under 5. They may collect from nearby schools and may be flexible if you’re running a little late.
However, more and more parents in demanding jobs with long hours are using nannies, or home childcarers. Bear in mind that your own home will need to be registered as a childcare setting.
Families are also responsible for paying their tax and national insurance. Companies such as Nannytax give help with the administration and for a fee will ensure that all your employment responsibilities are met.
What it costs: For a childminder, the typical fees average from £109 – £147 per week part time, and £212 – £277 per week full time, depending on where you live.
For a nanny or home childcarer, you need to pay them at least the National Minimum Wage (how much this is may differ depending on where you live).
Extra costs for a nanny include tax and national insurance contributions, a pension plan, holiday and sick pay, mobile phone for emergencies and car insurance if you want them to drive the family car. You can read more about nannies, pension and tax queries here.
If you employ a home childcarer or an officially registered nanny you’ll be able to apply for the childcare element of Working Tax Credit and can receive tax benefits on childcare vouchers. See the Daycare Trust’s ‘Paying for childcare’ site for more info on registered and approved childcare.
Nannies can now be registered with the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, giving you additional benefits. Most nannies have a recognised childcare qualification or nursery nurse training but this isn’t compulsory.
Not all nannies are inspected by Ofsted, so it’s up to you to check out their references and qualifications.
Is a nanny or home childcarer for you? If you agree with some of these points, either of these might be a good option for you:
- I need someone to fit around my routine and lifestyle
- I want a big say in how my child is cared for – what they do, when they sleep etc
- I’ve got children of different ages to find care for and this way they can be together and it’s less expensive
- My child will be happier in his own home (and own bed if I’m late home)
- I’m happy to take on the legal and financial responsibility
- I’m happy with the idea of someone else living with us, and have the space.
Kinship care – what you need to know
Some families are fortunate enough to have grandparents or other members of the family who can step in to help with childcare.
What it costs: As this is an arrangement based largely on trust, the money side can be quite vague and flexible but usually it’s based on one of 2 things:
- Giving money to cover all expenses simply to ensure the grandparent isn’t out of pocket
- If they’ve given up a job to look after the children, matching that salary
Is kinship care for you? The benefits of ‘keeping it in the family’ are huge – a consistent, comfortable presence in your child’s life who also has their best interests as their first priority.
But looking after small children is, as we all know, extremely tiring so do be sure that Gran is happy to do it.
Au pairs – what you need to know
Au pairs provide flexible help around the house and some childcare thrown in. Au pairs are single women, and sometimes men, between the ages of 17 and 27 who come to England to learn English. An au pair will live in your home for a maximum of 2 years.
In return for childcare and housework for up to five hours a day, you must give your au pair opportunities for study, a reasonable allowance and 2 full days off a week.
The British Au Pair Agencies Association is a good place to start your search for an au pair. BAPAA members are listed along with their contact and website details. It’s worth pointing out that some agencies recommend that au pairs should not have sole charge of a child under 3 years.
An au pair is not a registered form of childcare and you must be prepared to research all their references and qualifications.
What it costs: Expect to pay your au pair about £70 – £85 pocket money for 25 hours’ work, as well as living expenses as a member of the family.
Is an au pair for you? There are several special issues with an au pair. It may be for you if you agree with most of the following:
- My children are old enough to be entrusted to someone with little hands-on childcare experience
- I’m not working away from the home for long hours
- I have time to spend introducing an au pair to where and how things work in our local community and in a British family
- I have the patience to deal with someone who initially may not speak much English
- I’ll be ready to find a new childcare arrangement after a year
- I have room in my house to give an au pair reasonable space and independence
How to security check your childcarer
You can security-check your childcarer through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), formerly known as the CRB, if they’re supplied by an agency.
If not, with your childcarer’s permission, you can go to your local Police HQ and ask the Data Protection Officer to provide a Subject Access Check form.
Although not as comprehensive as the DBS check, this will usually be completed within 40 days and will cost you around £10. Find more info on the gov.uk website.
Useful further information
- Gov.uk’s childcare finder allows you to type in your postcode and search for local, registered childminders in England and Wales.
- Gov.uk’s childcare section has lots of useful info about what to look for when choosing childcare, including questions to ask when interviewing a nanny.
- British Au Pairs Agencies Association enables you to start your au pair search
- Family Lives is a UK registered charity that offers support to anyone parenting a child. The site also includes a section for grandparents caring for grandchildren.
- Nannyshare enables you to find other parents in your area who also needa nanny so you can team up and save money.
- My Family Care Emergency Childcare allows you to book childcare online as and when you need it.