27th July 2020

The questions to ask when you start investigating childcare

For many new mums just the thought of leaving their precious new baby at a nursery or with a childminder or nanny is too heartbreaking to even think about until we really have to. Meanwhile, some of us can’t wait to get back to work and outsource some of the drudgery! Either way, here are some tips…

“What’s your Ofsted rating – and how up to date is it?”

Ofsted stands for The Office For Standards in Education. Childminders in England must be registered with Ofsted in order to look after children under the age of 8 years old, if you live in Scotland it’s the Care Inspectorate, in Wales it’s the Care and Social Services Inspectorate and in Northern Ireland the Health and Social Care Trust (HSCT).

When you start investigating childcare a good starting point is to have a read of their Ofsted report. While it’s important to remember that it’s not the be all and end all when it comes to gauging the standards of a childminder or nursery (and some of them can be very out of date, something the setting will be keen to emphasise if they’ve taken big steps to up their standards), it can provide a good starting point.

“Can I pop by at a different time?”

Aside from all the official stuff, your instinct goes a long way. Make sure you have a look around the setting, or meet the childminder or nanny, more than once in different circumstances. You’ll probably get an immediate reaction based on your instinct which counts for a lot. If you’re going to be trusting them to look after the most precious thing in the world to you then feeling comfortable and happy with the setting will at least make you feel better.

“Do YOUR kids enjoy it?”

Try and speak to some other parents – you could ask around on Mush – who’ve sent their children there to get their feedback. Obviously there’s always going to be a certain amount that’s subjective, but speaking to a few other parents will at least help you to build a bigger picture.

“Why are those kids so snotty?”

If the other children are there when you look around do you think that they look happy and well cared for? If you see a nursery where the kids are running around with streaming noses while the staff chat away, for instance, you might not have the confidence that they’re going be kept clean (although a bit of snot and muck is to be expected!).

“Where do they sleep?”

Most babies take at least two naps in the daytime up until they’re at least one, then cut to one. Is the setting conducive to them having a decent nap? A lot of nurseries have a separate sleep room with all the cots in so that they won’t be disturbed, others use floors mats. Most babies adjust to the setting pretty quickly, but it’s still an important consideration.

“How flexible are you?”

Does the childcare offer the flexibility that you need? If you’re self-employed or freelance it’s often handy to be able to book your child in for extra sessions at short notice if you’re busy with work. Or if you’re working long days and can sometimes get delayed on the way home a childminder or nanny could be more suitable. Essentially, look at your situation and work out which option gives you the flexibility you need. Most nurseries charge a fee if you’re late collecting your child so whilst occasional delays are inevitable if it’s going to be a regular issue then you need to prepare for it.

“How often do they play outside?”

As babies it might not seem as important but as soon as they’re sitting up and beginning to move around then there’s nothing nicer than a change of scenery and some fresh air every day – it helps them sleep better, for a start. Find out how easily they will be able to access outside space during the day. If there’s a well-used large garden which their room opens out into then this may be more for likely than if they’re going to be on the fifth floor somewhere.

“How do you discipline them?”

If your kids are cheeky monkeys, are they going to get a gentle chat, some time out or a big telling off? We all have different parenting styles and most carers will do their best to replicate them, but it’s an important subject that’s easy to overlook when you’re focused on the more practical stuff.

“Can they use their dummy/drink my expressed breast milk/wear reusable nappies?”

Settings all have different policies on this sort of thing, and there are health and safety rules that can affect them too. If you have specific needs, particularly if they deviate slightly from their norm, make sure you ask before your little one starts so you can prepare them accordingly.

“How long have you worked here?”

There’s a lot of movement in the childcare industry (since it’s not the best paid, and attracts a lot of young people who haven’t laid down roots yet). But you want your kids somewhere where the majority of staff are content, so if there’s a really fast turnover then questions should be asked. If the staff have all been there a good few years then it’s usually an indicator that they’re happy and the establishment is well run.

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