Decide on the type of childcare
- Childminders are self employed and usually look after children in the childminder’s own home.
- Nurseries provide childcare for children from 6 weeks to pre-school four-year olds.
- Preschools provide play and education sessions for children from two to four years.
- Homechildcarers and nannies are people who are employed to look after your child or children at your home.
- Whatever type of childcare you choose you will want to know that it is safe. See how to choose services (including childcare) safely.
Draw up a shortlist
Search online for childcare near you.
Search the Family Information Directory
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You might also find our Childcare for disabled children page useful
For childminders and settings, once you have a list, you can save time by contacting several places and asking a few key questions rather than visiting them all. If you are thinking of a nursery here is a film from Family & Childcare Trust,
Questions to ask
- Are they registered with Ofsted?
- Are places available now, or will be in the near future?
- Are there any age restrictions?
- Is it convenient for your home and work?
- Are the hours they offer and the cost suitable?
- What training and qualifications does the staff/childminder have?
- What is their attitude/approach to matters such as sleep, potty-training, food, setting boundaries on behaviour, etc?
- Will there be a written contract covering hours, pay, illness, holidays, etc?
Particularly for childminders
- How long have they been working with children and how long do they intend to continue?
- How old are the other children in their care?
- If there are other adults in the home, how do they relate to children?
- Do they deliver/collect, which schools do they deliver/collect from?
Arrange a visit
You should make appointments to visit at least two of your chosen form of childcare. Try to do this at times when the carer is looking after other children. The children should be happy and calm in a stimulating environment, and be well supervised at all times.
Take your child with you so you can observe how the carers relate to him/her. Do they chat to him/her, try to engage his/her interest? Do they have a settling-in policy? Take a list of questions in case you are side-tracked or distracted.
Time to choose
Once you have a shortlist, double-check that everything meets your requirements - suitability, cost, whether some of all of the hours will be government "funded" (free), availability etc. Try to speak to other parents who use the same provider and listen to their experiences and opinions. Don't be afraid to go for a second visit if you have any doubts.
Confirming your decision
Now is the time to double-check all the details of the arrangement - the hours, cost and conditions, how you secure your place until your child starts (do you need a deposit or retainer fee?) and how the settling-in period will work.
Get it in writing
You should use a contract or formal written agreement containing details of cost, hours and conditions to ensure there is no room for misinterpretation or disagreement in the future. Nurseries will usually give you an agreement to sign, so read it carefully.
Contracts for childminders are available from the PACEY Professional Association for Childcare & Early Years or from Working Families
Contract details should cover:
- the retainer fee until your child starts
- arrangements for sickness - what you pay if your child or the carer is sick
- holiday pay - when you are on holiday and when the carer is away
- hours and days your child will attend including which hours are "funded", if any
- amount you will pay
- what the costs cover (e.g. nappies)
- you can make additions e.g. notice period