One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to trust another someone to look after their child or children when they aren’t there. Whether you need childcare because you have gone back to work or you want your little one to have some social time away from you the options are mindboggling and the cost even more so.
Experts believe that we are in a childcare crisis with not enough places being available and childcare costs soaring. Parents faced with looking for childcare would agree.
There are a number of choices available when looking for childcare. Which one you will ultimately choose will depend on cost, availability and suitability. Childminders, nurseries, afterschool clubs, holiday childcare schemes and a nanny are the most common childcare options open to parents today. Finding out by what childcare options are available in you area may be done via childcare pages, Ofsted, the local council, SureStart centres, other parents and community noticeboards and local information.
Choosing the Right Childcare Provider
All childcare agencies and individuals should all be registered and have been Ofsted inspected. Ofsted inspections take place periodically (up to three years apart) and reports and ratings are available online or direct from Ofsted. Ofsted are just one source of information however. Personal recommendations go a long way towards helping a parent paint a real and accurate picture of what a setting is like. Childcare professionals will also be able to offer a wealth of information and evidence regarding what the children in their setting do on a daily basis, offer information on their own policies and more.
Do check registrations, visit settings to get a feel for them and check references where appropriate. Choosing one or two settling in or trial days at a setting before deciding on contracted hours is a great way to see how you and your child feel about a place and whether it is a good fit.
Paying For Childcare
Childcare is expensive, and for some people prohibitive. There is however help available. The term after their third birthday all three to four year olds are entitled to fifteen hours of “free” childcare provision. These hours are government funded and therefore must be used in a registered setting however this does not necessarily mean being limited to a nursery. Childminders may also register to be able to accept funded childcare places. More information on post-three years funding may be found here as may information on the more limited funding for two year olds which is primarily for parents on certain benefits.
You may also apply for help with your childcare costs via the Tax Credits system where if successful you may be awarded up to 70% of the cost of your childcare. To check if you are eligible for help visit the Tax Credits Childcare page here. It is also worthwhile checking to see whether your employers offer childcare vouchers as this too may cut the cost of your childcare bill.
Have you managed to navigate the minefield that is choosing and funding childcare for your family? If you have any experiences to share or any top tips for those starting out please do leave a comment.