Putting your child into someone else’s care is one of the hardest things a parent has to do. Not just from an emotional point of view but also from the ‘are they in the best place possible?’ point of view. So how can you check?
Who Regulates Childcare in the UK?
The introduction of childcare vouchers, child tax credits and free childcare places means more parents are choosing childcare than ever before. In England, responsibility for inspecting childcare is now with early years specialists at Ofsted, the government’s scrutiny squad for schools. Day nurseries, pre-school playgroups or nursery schools, crèches, after-school care for the under 8s and childminders all come under the Ofsted umbrella.
In Scotland, these services are registered and inspected by the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care, and in Wales by the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales. In Northern Ireland, childminders and daycare providers are registered with the local Health and Social Services Trust.
Go to the websites of these organisations and check what they have to say about the childcare you are considering. If they didn’t quite come up to scratch, ask the childcare provider what they have done to address the issues raised – they may have enthusiastically embraced the suggestions made and be taking steps to improve themselves, which can only be a good thing.
Non-registered Forms of Childcare
In all these countries though, there are some important exceptions. Nannies, au pairs, Babysitters and relatives such as grandmothers and aunties do not have to be registered, so you need to compare how registered forms of childcare are checked. This can be done by seeing what Ofsted has to say about them on their websites, then applying the same principles to these non-registered forms yourself.
In practice, regulation means checking whether or not the carers are suitable to work with children (police checks and other similar checks are carried out in the case of childminders and relatives, too). There are checks on whether the Environment Is Safe For Kids and stimulating, and whether carers meet agreed standards for care. Once carers pass the checks, they are registered, receive a certificate and are inspected at least once a year (or a minimum of once every 24 months for childminders).
You can make your own checks as well, as it is equally important to go with your own feelings on the atmosphere and the people who work there even if they do pass the Ofsted checks.
What to Look for When Choosing Childcare
The Daycare Trust recommends you trust your judgement and look for:
- Trained and experienced staff that respond to children’s needs
- Busy but relaxed children who seem happy and purposeful
- Safe, clean and friendly premises and outside space
- Cultural sensitivity and a staff team and children who reflect local ethnic groups
- Fun activities planned for each day and a big welcome for you and your child
And that you ask:
- What is the ratio of children to carers? How many children do you care for?
- What qualifications/experience do the staff have?
- What are the daily routines? How will you involve my child?
- What are your discipline policies and how do you manage behaviour?
- Can I see a copy of your registration certificates and inspection reports?
But most of all, as a parent, spend some time there; pop in when you don’t have an appointment. Be aware though, of security issues, as any nursery or childminder will need to know who you are and why you are visiting before letting you in. If you are a parent and your children are in their charge, then childcarers should be only to pleased to let you in to join the fun!
Listen to your child – they are after all, the ones experiencing the childcare – and if something doesn’t feel right to them, it will soon show in a change of behaviour or they’ll tell you!