Childcare: for any parent, it’s a minefield! Nursery, nanny, childminder, babysitter: the list seems endless, getting it right isn’t easy and that’s without considering the cost, which unfortunately, is often phenomenal. In this article we’ll consider all of the options available and the pros and cons of each one.
Nursery is a great option if you want your child to be looked after in a group setting, with other children of similar ages, and need reliable childcare on a regular basis. (Nurseries rarely shut down as they usually have many staff that can be redeployed into other areas should staff become sick etc). Depending on what you need, many will offer contracts all year round or term time only, and will offer holiday clubs in the school holidays. For funded children (some 2 year old and all 3 and 4 year olds – after the term in which they reach the age of 3) you might want to consider if they also offer ‘stretched’ funding across the entire year, which is useful for those parents who do not have access to holiday care or don’t work term-time only but reduces the 15 ‘free’ hours per week. Bear in mind that almost all nurseries will close for 1 or 2 weeks per year so you will require alternative childcare for at least those weeks. They usually accept a range of childcare vouchers which is great if you use a salary sacrifice scheme to pay for childcare costs and some will include nappies, formula and meals/snacks within their pricing structure. A variety of activities are usually offered along with outdoor play, and children will quickly learn socialisation skills.
Things to consider – What type of setting does your child need? Structured or individualised? This may affect whether you need a local authority run or school nursery or a private nursery such as a Montessori. What age will your child be? If your child is very young you might have limited options and require a private nursery as some only accept children from a certain age.
Pre-schools are usually structured sessions for 3 hours per day, morning or afternoons, and are often found attached to local primary schools or in church halls. The age requirement to attend is usually 2.5 years old, and many children will attend every day, Monday to Friday, for either a morning or afternoon session, though many pre-schools will also let you opt for a full day by using a morning and afternoon session, with a lunch club in between. Pre school rates are often much cheaper than nursery or childminder fees but the obvious disadvantage is that the hours are very restricted, which would be very difficult for working parents, however if you don’t need your child to be in a childcare setting for more than 3 hours a day, but want them to experience a group setting with other children, this can be a cost-effective way to do this.
A good website for information on all Early Years education and childcare setting is The Pre-School Learning Alliance https://www.pre-school.org.uk/ – You can also find good information regarding funding for your child, details on your local authority funding rates and updates on the new 30 hours of ‘free’ funding for 3 and 4 year olds due to be rolled out nationally in September 2017.
A good option if you feel that you would prefer your child looked after by just one person, in their own home. Children will generally be looked after with other children, although age groups can be varied and they won’t be exposed to as many other children as there are strict rules on how many children can be looked after by a childminder at any one time.
Childminders can be slightly cheaper per hour than a nursery, however popular childminders can have long waiting lists. Many childminders do accept childcare voucher schemes, and will accept flexible hours from full day care to school drop off and pick up, however you will still need to contract with them for a certain amount of time and will need access to alternative childcare as childminders are allowed to give themselves a set amount of time off for their own annual leave.
Drawbacks can be if the childminder or any of their own children become ill and cannot work, you may not have the option of sending your child into the setting and unlike a nursery, there are usually no other staff available to step in.
Both nurseries and childminders should be OFSTED registered, which means you can check on their performance and credentials. This link will take you to the OFSTED website where you can search for your preferred childcare provider https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/
Does your family need many hours of childcare? If so, a nanny or au pair could be the answer. A nanny will usually be employed every day, and look after your child in your home and an au pair would generally live with you and sometimes undertake other households tasks such as cooking.
This can be an expensive option, and becomes more cost effective the more children you have that require childcare. You will also need to provide a contract, as you would become an employer and so legal requirements need to be taken care of.
A great advantage of employing a nanny is that your child/children will form a close relationship with them and have the type of consistency in care that they may not get elsewhere, however they won’t necessarily have the experiences that a child in a nursery setting would have.
If you only need ad-hoc, small amounts of childcare a babysitter may well be the answer. You won’t usually need to sign contracts, can often negotiate the hourly rate and will be able to interview them yourself in your own home. There are many places you can find babysitters online, however keep in mind that they are not regulated, and do not need to be registered with any authorities so it is imperative that you make proper checks and take up references before employing anyone as a babysitter.
For more information on childcare options, including funding have a look here http://www.babycentre.co.uk/c541558/work-and-childcare