Written by: Toni Foot
Deciding whether you want a childminder or nursery look after your child whilst you are working can be one of the most difficult decisions you have to make. All parents want the best for their child, but each family has different needs and preferences. Here are some suggestions that may help you to start your search for the perfect solution for your family.
Why choose a childminder?
Childminders are individuals working in their own home. They may have children of their own, but are limited to 3 children under the age of 5 at any one time (according to current legislation). This means that your child will be cared for in a family environment – a home from home. Childminders can be very flexible as they only care for a small number of children and can meet individual needs effectively. They can spend time with your child individually and often build a strong relationship with the children in their care. They can take the children out regularly so that they get to experience a range of interesting experiences and activities.
Communication is usually very good, as childminders can often take time to discuss your child with you regularly. Childminders have to be registered and inspected by Ofsted and are required to provide the same education and meet the same safety standards as other childcare providers (such as nurseries). They may be able to do school runs for you or to accommodate older children after school or during school holidays.
Just as childminders can be flexible in meeting your child’s needs, they can also often meet your own needs. You will probably find that a childminder is cheaper than a nursery (depending on where you are) and they can accept any form of financial support you have access to (such as child tax credits or childcare vouchers). They may be willing to work irregular hours or to cover shift patterns. Some childminders give discounts for families with more than one child and some will make holiday arrangements to avoid you paying for childcare you don’t use.
Why may a childminder not be right for me?
Childminders are individuals and so every one works differently – you should take time to talk to prospective childminders in detail to ensure they are a match for your family. It can be difficult to find someone who can accommodate your specific needs because they may be restricted by the number of children in their care or by existing commitments to other parents. There may also be a limited number of childminders in the area you are searching so you may feel like you have little choice – the numbers of childminders available can vary greatly even within a town.
Due to the number of children attending, nurseries often have clear (usually flexible) routines that can help your child to adapt to being away from home. Nurseries are required to ensure there are staff qualified in caring for children under 5 years old and many nurseries benefit from highly qualified staff. Your child should be allocated a key worker to help ensure continuity of care, who should be willing to discuss your child’s progress with you in detail.
Even if the individual who usually cares for your child is unable to work, nurseries usually have enough staff to cover holidays and sick leave, so you shouldn’t be left without care at short notice.
Why may a nursery not be right for me?
Some parents feel that the care provided by nurseries is impersonal because the staff have many children to care for and may not have time to spend with each child individually. Similarly the individual needs of a child may be overlooked in a busy nursery environment.
Nurseries are generally less flexible than childminders because of the sheer numbers of children and staff they have to manage. They may not be able to accommodate unusual working hours or shifts, meaning that you may have to pay for more childcare than you need, or have more than one provider caring for your child. They will be unable to waive fees for absence such as holidays, and they will not be able to negotiate fees with you in the interests of fairness for all parents.
Although nurseries are required to ensure there are some qualified staff within the provision, the most highly qualified individuals can find their time taken up with administrative tasks and overseeing other carers, leaving less qualified members of staff in direct contact with your child. Your child may also be cared for by a number of adults and you may not have any choice over who directly looks after them.