I’m not sorry that we are past the first few years of the childcare debate. It’s a difficult, tricky patch for any parents that need or want to go back to work after having a baby.
I ended up going back to work when Rian was about 13 months old. I wasn’t planning on it originally because although I did actually want to work, my take home salary would have been approximately 40p after childcare fee’s. Then my work offered me a last minute promotion – substantially higher salary, much more responsibility and exciting prospects. I couldn’t resist – at the time we really needed the extra money, and frankly, I needed to feel like a person outside of mothering again.
So this immediately brought up the panic of trying to arrange last minute, full time childcare. Bugger.
The local nursery – on our road! – was lovely, but they had a waiting list of a year. A YEAR. How does that even work? Do you wee on the stick, then immediately ring the nursery, before even telling Daddy to be? Goodness knows. Anyway, that wasn’t an option, so I searched online and luckily (sort of – more later) found a childminder on the next road. She was lovely, and had a little boy the same age as Rian. I was delighted, and immediately signed him up and got him settled in. It was all a bit of a rush though – she was newly qualified and very expensive. We paid her more than a thousand pounds a month, and she didn’t even include breakfast or dinner. She was also unbeknownst to us, pregnant again. Which was fine, but plunged us back into the horror show of looking for childcare a mere 5 months later.
We were lucky enough to strike pure gold the second time. Mama Shan was an amazing, loving, and involved childminder. She truly adored every child in her care, was £200 per month cheaper AND did breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rian was happy and loved – and I was happy and loved my new job and the fact Rian was so cared for and settled. It was a lovely time for us all in the end, full of daily pictures and little video updates, treats and parties. I’m going to go and see her again with the boy in half term for a catch up.
This post is being sponsored by Childcare.co.uk, and they have their own advice for looking for childcare, which I would recommend using myself (and did, to be honest) This advice is from their childcare expert Jo Wiltshire, who is an author and journalist specialising in parenting and family issues. Her mantra is gut instinct above all else, and these 5 bits of guidance:
Searching for childcare? Five top tips on what to look out for:
Visit the setting
Always visit the premises, whether it’s a nursery or a childminder’s house. Visit when they have other children there, not out of hours. Look at the children – are they clean, happy, confident in talking to the staff? Are they relaxed, but busy and purposeful? Are the staff approachable and warm? Are the surroundings clean, bright, with evidence of activities, outside play space, and safe places to wash, use the toilet and eat? Are the toys reasonably new-looking, and clean? Are there books, paper, pencils, building toys, role-play toys and stimulating colours? Is the atmosphere one you would want to spend hours a day in?
Both of your potential care giver, and also any friends, family or wider acquaintances who have already used them. Word of mouth works – as long as you are sensible enough to overlook individual grudges or personal disputes. When you visit the caregiver, don’t be embarrassed to really drill them – 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 and nappies, outings and trips, whether they have a keyworker scheme, what happens when a childminder is poorly. If they can’t or won’t answer, think again.
Think about the things that are important in making your child happy and safe at the particular stage they are at right now. See the setting and the adults in it 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 – do they look interested, curious, engaged? Do the other children? Is this somewhere your child would choose to be?
Check and double-check
Do your homework. Check the settings Ofsted report, take up references (at least two), do a news search of the setting on the internet to see if they’ve been in the local press for any reason (good or bad!). Drop by unannounced, and see what things look like when they’re not expecting you – are the staff interacting with the children, down on their level? Or is the television acting as a childminder? Are the children clean and occupied, and the staff unflustered and happy to greet you? Ask to use the loo, so that you get to walk into areas that may be less ‘prepped’ for visitors. You may feel like a spy – but if they have nothing to hide, you won’t catch them out!
Communication is key
The people in this setting will see you child for many hours a week. 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 and warmly and frequently. Does the setting send out a newsletter or email update? How do they communicate directly with parents? Do they have a parents handbook? How do they record and communicate your child’s development to you? How can you talk to them if you have a family issue, or something that is affecting your child? If you don’t feel confident communicating with your potential caregiver, then walk away. However shiny and impressive the premises are, it counts for nothing if this relationship isn’t right. Gut instinct is the final box you have to tick – and communication is probably the key factor which will influence this.