Back when Frog was around a year old I made the decision to leave my full time permanent job and go freelance. This brought with it the flexibility and freedom to spend more time with her, but a whole new headache when it came to choosing childcare. I needed to find childcare that was both safe, happy and reliable – as well as factoring in the often crazy, ad-hoc hours that came with working as a broadcast journalist.
These days I work from home, so childcare isn’t as much of an issue, but we recently discovered that the joy of childcare doesn’t need to be limited to parents who work out of the home, as we used the website Childcare.co.uk to find a brand new babysitter so we could enjoy our first ever parents’ date night.
As a parent, the whole search for childcare can often be an overwhelming one. I know I get bogged down in checking if people are available or if my hours suit them, and sometimes forget to ask the really important questions that will ultimately give me the answer of if my kids will be happy in the setting. The right childcare can have a hugely positive impact – way more than just financial – and discovering what works for you and your child is all about keeping a few key things in mind on that initial meeting.
Jo Wiltshire’s an author and journalist specialising in parenting and family issues, and is currently working with Childcare.co.uk, the service, which helps parents, nannies and childminders to connect.
Here are Jo’s top tips for choosing childcare:
1. Ask questions
“Don’t be embarrassed to really drill a potential new caregiver,” recommends Jo. “You are considering handing them responsibility for your precious child, and any caregiver worth their salt won’t mind answering anything you can throw at them. Ask about staff ratios, qualifications, daily routines, policies on discipline, practicalities such as provision of food an nappies, outings and trips, whether they have a keyworker scheme and what happens if they’re sick.”
2. Trust your gut instinct
A recent study by Childcare.co.uk found over a third of parents reported to know when they found “the one”. Jo says the feeling when you’ve found the right provider is often one of gut instinct. “Make sure you visit lots of caregivers and go with the person you feel is going to be right for your family and who you feel confident communicating with. However shiny and impressive the premises are, it counts for nothing if this relationship isn’t right.”
3. Be child-centred
“Think about the things that are important in making your child happy and safe at the particular stage they’re at right now,” says Jo. “See the setting and the adults through your child’s eyes. While policies and records are important to you, your child will be more concerned with friendships, food, fun things to do and feeling secure and loved in their environment. Is the setting a fun, safe place to be? Are the other children kind, friendly and welcoming? Take your child there for a visit and ask yourself if they look interested, curious and engaged.”
4. Do your homework
There are lots of checks you can make when you think you’ve found “the one”. Jo recommends being really thorough to make sure you don’t get caught out with unexpected disappointment later on. “Check the setting’s Ofsted report, take up references (at least two), do a news search of the setting on the internet, drop by unannounced and see what things look like when you’re not expected.”
5. Communication is key
“The people in this setting will see your child for many hours a week,” Jo reminds us. “They will influence them, teach them, inspire them. They may witness many ‘firsts’ and key stages your child reaches. Your child should form an important bond with them. You will NEED to be able to communicate with them easily, warmly and frequently.”