There’s nothing more precious than the welfare of your little ones – which means that finding the perfect childminder can seem as daunting as climbing Mount Everest. In flip flops.
You’ve all heard horror stories and probably dreamt up a few of your own (you know, in which every seemingly charming carer you meet morphs into the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as soon as you shut their front door).
But nowadays the childminding industry is so heavily regulated that it’s very unlikely anything bad will happen. But, even if your chosen childminder ticks all the regulatory boxes and comes with more rave reviews than the new Ryan Gosling film, it’s also a case of ‘mother’s instinct knows best’.
Here are our top dos and don’ts:
DO contact the Family Information Service (FIS)
Each local council in England has one. You’ll be able find out about childcare options in your area, including lists of registered childminders, and costs. To find your local FIS click here.
DON’T leave it too late
You need to start looking at least several months (if not more!) before your return to work. If a childminder is popular (they can only look after up to six children under eight), she’ll be booked up way in advance.
DO visit more than one childminder at their home
Check out the rooms and outside play space, listen to word of mouth, get references from parents both past and present and read Ofsted reports.
DON’T go to anyone unregistered
Childminders must be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau along with everyone over 18 in their family who shares their home. They also must meet national childcare standards, and follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (which provides a structure of learning and care to children from birth to five years of age).
Childminders will be inspected by the following authorities:
- England: Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
- Scotland: Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland
- Wales: Care and Social Services Inspectorate, Wales
- Northern Ireland: Health and Social Services Trust
DO ask lots of questions
As well as the obvious queries about hours, charges and any holiday time your child minder has booked (as you’ll need to get cover for that) you might want to ask about things including how long they’ve been working with children, experience of handling emergencies, proof of training and qualifications, as well as daily routine and their approach to discipline.
DON’T be afraid to ask if you can give a childminder a trial
And you should also be able to visit them as often as you need until you are satisfied your child is getting the best possible care.
DO talk to your child about what she’s been doing during the day
If she’s having fun and learning lots, she’ll be full of things to talk about.
DON’T forget to ask if your childminder what happens if she’s off sick or on holiday
If she’s a member of a local network like Children Come First this can can help you find a local replacement. You can find further information about this via the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years www.pacey.org.uk
DO look into what free childcare you might be able to get
All three to four year olds (and two year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds) are entitled to 15 hours’ free, which could be worth up to £180, for 38 weeks of the year.
However not all childminders can offer this. They have to be specially accredited and part of a suitable childminding network so keep that in mind when choosing who to go with. Your local Family Information Service will be able to help you with this.