Returning to work can be a daunting prospect for any parent who has been away from the workplace looking after their baby or young child. After having a baby some people return to work within weeks, others not for years. Whatever your situation, if you are going back to work then the question of who will look after your child/children is a very important one for you answer long before you walk back through the workplace door.
When it comes to choosing childcare there are many options available. Whichever one you choose, the right childcare will help your child learn, develop, feel safe, make new friends, have fun and fulfil their day-to-day needs.
To help you navigate the minefield of options, we offer a brief guide to the different childcare choices available and some things to consider when deciding which is right for your family.
Childminders are self-employed and look after children in their own home. They must be registered with Ofsted and will follow the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) which covers learning development and care from birth to five years old. Childminders will often do school drop off and pick up runs. As they are Ofsted registered they will accept childcare vouchers and the childcare element of working tax credit. There is a limited number of children childminders can care for – up to six children, of which only three can be under 3 years old and only one under 12 months. If you use a childminder you will need to find alternative cover for when they are on holiday or are ill.
Nurseries can be run privately, by the local authority or by employers. They usually offer care to children from 6 weeks to five years old and are typically open from 8am – 6pm all year round (except public holidays). There are legal staff to child ratios depending on age in a nursery. These are: under twos 1:3; 2 year olds 1:4; over 3s at least 1:8, depending on staff qualifications. Nurseries are a flexible choice as they always have staff cover and will accept childcare vouchers and childcare element of working tax credit. However, they can be more expensive than a childminder and you might have to pay even if on holiday or your child is sick.
A nanny either lives-in or has a daily role to look after your children to suit your needs. They can voluntarily register with Ofsted, and if they do so you can use childcare vouchers and childcare element of working tax credit. They will look after your children in your own home so your children are surrounded by their own toys in a familiar place. You will need to arrange cover for when your nanny is on holiday or is ill. As their employer you will also need to deal with PAYE to collect tax and National Insurance contributions on their pay. If they earn over the tax free allowance (currently £10,000 they will qualify for automatic enrolment in a pension so you will have to pay into a pension for them. Find out more about automatic enrolment.
Find out more about employing a nanny.
These are usually community or volunteer-run organisations for 3-5 year olds. They usually have morning and afternoon sessions of about 3 hours each and run during school term time only. This can be a low cost option but you will have to find alternative cover during the day when the sessions don’t run (some don’t cover lunchtime) and in school holidays.
An Au Pair is usually a young person from abroad who wants to learn the language and experience a different country, they may be studying as well. They will usually provide up to 30 hours a week childcare. They are considered one of the family so are not paid but you will need to provide board and lodging and pay around £75-85 a week ‘pocket money’. This can be a great low cost option, however, be aware that au pairs do not require any formal childcare training so are not really that suitable for children under three.
Find out more about au pairs.
Many people rely on informal arrangements with family and friends to look after their children and if you have ready, willing and able family members then it is worth considering. Family members do not have to be Ofsted registered. However, with non-blood related friends it can get a bit complicated. They must register with Ofsted if they look after your child for longer than 2 hours a day at any time up to 6pm. However, if this is for fewer than 14 days a year they may not be required to be registered. For more information take a look at the Government website.
Help with Childcare Costs
You may be eligible to get Government help to pay for childcare but you must use approved childcare providers to qualify. Find out more about help with childcare costs.
Free childcare for 2-4 year olds
All 3-4 year olds (and some 2 year olds from low income families) in England qualify for 570 hours of free childcare a year, which is usually divided into 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year. This must be taken with an Osted registered childcare provider. Some people will only use this childcare and therefore not have any other costs. However, if you have ongoing childcare costs, many nurseries and childminders will provide free hours as part of ongoing care so it will reduce your costs once your child gets to qualifying age. Find out more about free childcare.
This is only available through employers and is a salary sacrifice scheme. If your employer runs a childcare voucher scheme they will pay an amount from your salary each month (up to maximum of £243) directly to your childcare provider before tax and National Insurance contributions are deducted. Find out more about childcare vouchers.
From 2017 the childcare voucher scheme is changing and the self-employed will be able to access the new scheme. Find out more about the tax free childcare scheme.
If you work at least 16 hours a week and qualify for working tax credit you can claim the childcare element. Find out more about tax credits.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Childcare Provider
- Your child – it sounds obvious but you know your child best and will know what kind of environment they will be happiest in. For example would they do best in the busy group environment of a nursery or prefer a smaller group with a childminder.
- What suits yours family life – perhaps you have older children at school so think about how this childcare will fit in with that.
- Go and visit – visit each childcare setting you are considering as it will help you get an idea and ‘feel’ of the place
- Hours – how many hours of childcare time you will need
- Cost – this shouldn’t be the ‘be all and end all’ criteria but it is important to know that you can afford it
- Distance/location – where will your child be in relation to your workplace or home if you need to get to them quickly in an emergency or if they are ill
- Time – you need to give yourself plenty of time to find a childcare provider. Be warned that many may have waiting lists so if you leave it too late, you will be going back to work without anyone to look after your child.
Some Questions to Ask a Childcare Provider to Help You Decide:
- What experience and qualifications to you/your staff have?
- How do you ensure the safety of children in your care?
- What are your costs?
- Do you accept childcare vouchers?
- Do I still pay if my child is ill or on holiday?
- What is included in the cost? E.g. meals, nappies etc.
- How do you manage children’s behaviour?
- How do you support children’s learning and development?
- How will I be informed of my child’s progress?
- Will my child be able to have trial or taster sessions?
- What activities do you provide?
- Do you offer any trips or outings?