Choosing childcare

Finding good quality childcare can be a difficult task for parents. There are lots of things to look out for and remember to ask when you visit a childcare setting. How do you know if your child will be happy? Will they cater for your child's needs? Do they provide feedback about how your child is doing? What if my child doesn't like it?

Our new short film for parents, 'Choosing a nursery - what to look out for' will help you to recognise what a good setting can be like and the sorts of things you should be looking to find. Although this looks at a nursery setting, the information given will apply to other childcare.

We have developed information about the sorts of things you should do before selecting a childcare provider and the questions you might want to ask when visiting settings.

- Five steps to choosing childcare:

Draw up a shortlist using information from your local Family Information Service - check the hours that they can provide childcare, the hourly/daily/weekly cost and if they have places available for your child.

Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided.

Make the big decision - it might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.

Take up references from other parents who have used that service.

Book your child's place (you may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts) and arrange details like hours, start date, who is allowed to pick up your child.

Your child may take some time to settle into any new childcare setting that you start them in, so allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare. Remember that most childcarers, such as childminders, will offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is the right one for your child and that they are happy there.

- Visit settings
Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided. It might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide. 

Visiting childcare settings - what to look for:

  • Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs. 
  • Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful. 
  • Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space. 
  • Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life. 
  • A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups. 
  • Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind. Exercise and quiet times to relax are important. 
  • A big welcome for you and your child.  

Visiting childcare settings - what to ask:

  • What is the ratio of staff to children? How many children do you care for? 
  • What qualifications and/or experience do you have?
  • What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines? 
  • Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)? 
  • What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour? 
  • Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies etc or will I need to provide them?

These are just some of the questions you should ask; remember to also think about the things that matter to you and make sure you ask about them.

- Check quality
Check the setting's Ofsted report at Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can also be very useful. Childcare providers should be happy to put you in contact with other parents so that you can take up references about the service they provide. It is advisable to take up at least two references. Do remember that what works for one family may not be suitable for your needs.

- Take up references
It advisable for you to take up at least two references. Childcare providers should be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about the service they provide.

- Children's views
What will your child enjoy? These are the things children said were most important when Family and Childcare Trust visited nurseries and asked children for their views:

  • Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends. 
  • Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks. 
  • Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside. 
  • Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do. 
  • Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe.