PARENTS

Choosing Childcare: Which Childcare Option Is Best For Your Child

06/10/2011 08:41 | Updated 22 May 2015
Children in nurseryGetty

So, you've had your baby. The visitors have arrived, and left. You've done the feeding, the weaning and the sleep deprived nights and hopefully also enjoyed your maternity leave And if you're a working mum, it's about now that you're starting to think about the inevitable return to your job - and the question of the childcare that will best suit your baby (and you!).

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Focus on the positives, rather than feeling guilty for returning to work. Being back in an adult environment will be rewarding and you'll appreciate the quality time you have with your child even more. You'll miss him, of course, but your child will benefit from a variety of environments, people and activities.

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Ideally, it's best to think ahead about childcare options when you're pregnant. Of course, everything you thought before might go out the window once you're a mum, for example, that fun, stimulating nursery may suddenly seem too large and busy for a baby.

Be aware that the cost of childcare can vary enormously depending on what sort of care it is and where you live. Other things to think about are how you can build up your child's care bit by bit, what references are available, and what local friends would recommend.

Here are the pros and cons of each childcare choice...

Nurseries

Day nurseries are registered and inspected by Ofsted and there is usually a high staff to children ratio. The standard practice is for nurseries to welcome babies right through to four years.

Pros

Nurseries are lively, varied environments that are great places for your child to experience a variety of activities - and also enjoy socialising with other children.

Another advantage of this type of care is that unlike a nanny or childminder, nurseries are never off sick.

Nurseries are also checked frequently by your local social services department, so you can feel confident that they are performing to the required standards (you can read the relevant reports when you go for a visit).

Day nurseries follow the early years foundation stage (EYFS) so you know there will be structured learning rather than just play.

Cons

Some nurseries can have a high staff turnover, so ask about this when you go and visit.

There can be strict opening and closing times, so if you're running late, or need to get to work early one day, this could be a problem.

Your child will be mixing with lots of children, which means a bug breeding ground!

Cost

Varies on location, but around £96 a week for a full-time place.

How to find one

Start by looking online at ofsted.gov.uk.

Childminders

Childminder will look after your child, or a group of children, in their own homes. They provide care and learning support throughout the day. Choose a registered childminder and you can be assured they are vetted by Ofsted and their homes safety checked. Registered childminders are allowed to care for a maximum of six children under eight years old at one time and no more than three may be under five years.

Pros

You can choose a registered childminder from a list put together by your local social services department.

Many are usually mums themselves, which a lot of people see as an advantage.

Using a childminder is often cheaper than putting your child in a nursery, and they will be looked after with other children so won't miss out on the social aspect, either.

Great for your child's routine as he or she will see the same faces and places each day.

Cons

If they are sick or on holiday you'll need a back up.

Some mums-to-be might worry that a childminder's child will get special, or more, attention during the day. Be honest and open when you meet with potential childminders if this concerns you.

A childminder-child-mother relationship can be fantastic and last for years - but (as with nannies) it does depend on you liking, trusting and respecting each other. If you don't, it won't work.

Cost

Childminders are self-employed, so there's no standard rate, but the annual Daycare Trust's survey suggested the average price for a childminder is £90 a week, but it does vary on your location.

How to find one

Visit The National Childminding Association at Ncma.org.uk.

Childcare: How to pick the right one for you and your childrenGetty

Nannies

A nanny will look after your child in your own home. The hours can be more extensive than nurseries and you have lots of options for the timings - some nannies leave at the end of each day, some live-in and some nanny-share with another family which can help with the costs.

Pros

One of the many benefits is that you know you have experienced childcare whether your child is well or ill, and whether you have to start work early or finish late – a great solution if you have a demanding work schedule.

Your child will have one-on-one attention and care during the day and can form a close bond with their nanny.

Nanny sharing is a more affordable option and will give your child a playmate, too. For more information, visit Nannyshare.co.uk.

Cons

Nannies are not regulated so it is just up to you to choose one.

As your nanny's boss, you need to sort out the salary, tax and national insurance which you might rather do without.

They are the most expensive childcare option.

Cost

Huge regional differences, especially in London, but you can expect to pay around the £300 mark a week.

How to find one

Au pairs

Au pairs offer a cost-effective type of childcare. They are young women (and, more rarely, men) who come to the UK to learn English while living with a family, and are paid in board and lodging, plus weekly 'pocket money'. In return, au pairs help out with housework and childcare, but they do not have the experience to be left in long term charge of a baby.

Pros

Can be very helpful around the house, and can help with household chores as much as childcare.

You can ask your au pair to babysit and be around in the evenings - but remember to set this up before the evening you need to be out!

Au pairs come from all over the world and this can be brilliant for your child to learn new languages and cultures.

Cons

Au pairs very rarely have any formal childcare qualifications and, in some cases, much experience.

Your au pair will live in your house, so you need to be comfortable with this, and budget for the increase on your living expenses.

Au pairs tend to stay for one year only so your child may lack continuity of care.

Cost

Depends on the area and how much you would like to pay as 'pocket money'. Around £70 a week is the average.

How to find one

Contact the British Au Pair Agencies Association at Bapaa.org.uk.

Childcare: How to pick the right one for you and your childrenGetty

Family (your parents, in-laws, or sister)

Leaving your child with their grandparents or auntie is becoming a more and more common method of childcare as nursery costs rise. You can feel comfortable knowing your children are in the best possible hands and you know the house they will be in inside out.

Pros

It's a great way for them to feel at home when you're not there and you will always be sure that your child is well-loved and cared for.

Some grandparents will love to be asked and enjoy spending so much time with their grandchildren.

Cons

Make sure you come to a firm agreement with regard to hours or any reimbursement to prevent family arguments. If your parents are elderly, make sure they can cope with the physical side of the job too.

You might have to buy extra bits for your family member to have at home while they look after your children, which is obviously an extra cost. Think lightweight buggy or box of toys to be stored at granny's house.

Cost

Your discretion. Some families have an arrangement where they don't pay. If this is the case, the odd bunch of flowers or framed piccie of the family never goes amiss as a thank you.

What childcare do you have? What do you see as the pros and cons of your choice?

What do you wish you'd known or thought about more when choosing childcare for the first time?

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