Finding reliable childcare for your little one is one of the most daunting tasks new parents are faced with when returning to work. From nurseries to childminders and nannies, the options are many. But how do you decide which one is right for you?
When Mr Stork flaps away from your doorstep leaving that adorable wide-eyed bundle, little do you sense (in all its gravity) the sleepless nights, the colicky wails, the crazy routine and the whole paraphernalia that the cuddly package brings tucked underneath its little sleeve.
As tricky as it is, you somehow quickly learn to conquer the bumpy slopes of the learning curve that lies ahead. And just when you think you are finally settling into a decent routine, bang, it is time to return to work. Even worse is making that hard decision to entrust the care of your tiny little treasure to a total stranger.
If you or your partner do not have the luxury to stay back from work or turn to reliable family or friends, the best options you would often be left with are childminders, nannies or nurseries. Although each of these options come with their advantages, it’s important to weigh their pros and cons carefully before you arrive at a decision.
Childminders are self-employed child care providers who care for small groups of children from their own home. Childminders, in the UK for example, generally cost around £4.5-£5.5/hour and are cheaper than nannies who charge around £10-£11/hour.
They are typically registered with childcare regulatory bodies (Ofsted in England, CSSIW in Wales and the Care Inspectorate in Scotland), and are required to comply with statutory regulations. The websites of Ofsted, CSSIW and Care Inspectorate provide a reliable list of childminders in your area based on your postcode if you live in the UK.
A relaxed, family-like environment. As opposed to nurseries, your child is more likely to receive personalised attention as they will be part of a small group. Childminders are legally allowed to care for only six children under eight years of age, of which only one child can be under one year of age.
Unlike in the case of more informal arrangements like nannies, au pairs or doulas, you can pay using childcare vouchers and also claim for tax credits (if eligible), if you are using a registered childminder.
Higher flexibility with pick-ups and drop-offs compared to nurseries. Childminders might be able to accommodate you more easily if you have an irregular work pattern or working in shifts.
It would be essential to keep a backup care option sorted as you could end up in a fix if the childminder is ill or has an emergency.
As childminders operate from their own homes, there are chances that their home setting and hygiene standards may not be entirely to your liking. Some might have their pets at home and would be taking care of their children as well. So, it is essential to make sure you are happy not just with the person, but with the setting as well.
If you prefer to have your little one cared for in the familiar environment of your own home, nannies are a great option. However, unlike childminders, they are not legally bound to have any formal qualifications or to be registered with Ofsted or other regulatory bodies.
So, your choice would have to ride more or less on your instincts and the reviews and references from previous employers – which of course, you should not forget to ask for and verify.
Might offer help with light work around the house and babysitting for older kids at no extra costs.
You can make nanny-share arrangements with friends as there are no statutory limits on the number of children they can take care of.
More expensive compared to childminders and nurseries (£10-£11/hour).
You cannot pay them using childcare vouchers. (However, if they are registered on the Voluntary Childcare Register, you can claim Tax credits, if eligible).
As you are giving the person access to your private space, you might need to work out an arrangement that does not intrude the privacy of your family.
Nurseries are the go-to option if you are looking at a structured environment and if you feel more at ease with a few extra pairs of eyes around your little one rather than basing your trust on a single person.
Structured routine following a set curriculum with relatively more academic orientation and focus on social skills.
Trained and qualified staff.
You are not likely to be left looking for backup care at short notice as most nurseries would have enough staff to cover for emergencies or sick leaves.
Better standards. Nurseries are subject to audits and inspections by regulatory bodies where applicable.
Though most nurseries charge around £4.5-£5.5/hour (the same as childminders), nurseries often end up being more expensive as they sometimes charge for extras such as meals, diapers and day trips. Moreover, as most of the good nurseries will have limited free spaces, you are not likely to get a fee-waiver during absences and holidays.
As beneficial as some would find it to have more people around in your childcare setting, some parents would find the care at nursery more impersonal as you might not have much of choice over who looks after your child directly.
Whatever the option you decide to go for, make sure it fits with the schedule and priorities of your family, and most importantly feels right to you for your little one.