Parenting tip

The UK is the most expensive country, other than Switzerland, for childcare.

Childcare options

This article outlines your options when it comes to choosing your preferred form of childcare and highlights a few things to consider when making your choice.

Within the UK there are a number of childcare options. Here we discuss the different options to help you make a decision on your childcare search that perfectly suits you and your family.

Childcare options

Childminders
Registered with Ofsted (in England), the Care Inspectorate (in Scotland) and Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW). Childminders are self-employed and usually take care of children within their own home.

Children’s centres
Children’s centres began as a major part of the ‘Sure Start’ programme targeting child poverty. Now under local authority control, children’s centres aim to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for families and will have facilities to support early education, childcare, health, family support and help into employment (for parents and carers). Childcare facilities vary between centres – while some may offer nursery facilities, many don’t.

Day nurseries
Day nurseries offer care for children from birth to four or five years old. The number of children attending may vary from nursery to nursery. There are different types of nurseries including private, community, local authority and workplace nurseries.

Pre-school playgroups
Less formal than nurseries, these groups operate for a few hours each day only and do not provide full-time care. They tend to be run by private individuals or charities. Parents may be asked to volunteer their support for certain periods.

Crèches
Crèches will provide ‘occasional care’ for children and are provided on particular premises. Parents will use them on an irregular basis i.e. when they go to the gym or if they’re shoppoing.

Nannies
A nanny is someone who is typically paid to look after a child (or children) in the home of the child. They can either live-in or live-out, depending on their arrangement with the family.

Au pair
These are generally students from outside the UK, who are here to study and improve their English. They must also be provided with a bedroom, meals and pocket money.

Informal childcare
A family member, often a grandparent, may agree to take on some of the childcare. Frequently this is part-time, for example one to two days per week, or after the hours of formal childcare.

Questions to consider

Whilst trying to decide which method of childcare would be most suitable for your family – you may want to ask yourself a number of questions beforehand and these include:

  • Would you rather the childcare take place in your own home or outside it?
  • If outside it, how far are you able to travel each morning?
  • Would it be easier to arrange the childcare nearer to home or work?
  • If you are delayed at work, do you have a back-up plan in place?
  • What would happen if you are ill? If the child is ill? If a childminder is ill?
  • What happens during your own or a childminder’s holidays?
  • If there was an emergency would you be able to get to your child quickly?
  • Will your chosen method of childcare qualify for financial help with childcare costs: working tax credit or childcare vouchers?
  • If you ask a family member to help out, will they have to reduce their working hours to fit in with yours? Although this may initially look like a ‘cheaper’ option, you will not be given any financial assistance and may be expected to pay for necessary equipment e.g. car seats, stair gates etc. Will they provide care in your home or theirs? You will need to think about illness and holidays too.
  • Is there a clear fee structure? Will this include meals, snacks, nappies and days out?
  • Do they have a notice period if you wish to change childcare?

In addition, depending on the childcare you choose, it's worth considering:

  • How is discipline enforced? How is positive behaviour reinforced? How is negative behaviour discouraged?
  • Does the carer have extensive experience of working with babies or children of a similar age to your child?
  • How qualified are the staff?
  • What is the staff turnover?
  • What is the ratio of carer to children? For children aged two years and under, it should be no less than one adult to three children.
  • Has your carer completed a course in baby first aid?
  • How frequently are environmental risks assessed?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements and how are they monitored?
  • How will you be kept informed on your baby’s progress?
  • If/when a childminder takes the children outside for a walk, to the park, etc, how does she/he ensure safety of them all?

A big factor in deciding on childcare will, of course, also be costs. Why not use the cost of childcare calculator here to estimate how much you might spend on different options?

Holidays and sick days

It would also be helpful to think about holidays and whether your choice of childcare is available all year round.

  • Is your childcare flexible? Do you need it to be?
  • Will your child be taken care of if your working day overruns?
  • Will you be penalised if you take your child out to go on holiday?
  • Will the chosen method of childcare be offered all year round?
  • Would you be expected to co-ordinate your holidays with your childminder?
  • If your baby is sick, what arrangements do you have in place?
  • If the childminder is sick what will happen?

Choosing the right childcare for you and your children will need some time and attention. It's definitely worth thinking through all of your options to make sure you make the best choice for your family.

Further information

Our helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area and see what NCT activities are happening nearby.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Childcare must be registered with Ofsted (England), the Care Inspectorate Scotland and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).